A Leg Up

West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said that his team had finally earned a signature win. If that is truly the case, then kicker Tyler Bitancurt had his John Hancock all over it.

The redshirt freshman kicker booted four field goals, including a game-winner from 43 yards out on the final play, to lead the Mountaineers past arch-rival Pittsburgh 19-16 on a cold Friday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.

It was a dramatic ending to the most significant victory of Stewart's tenure as the West Virginia head coach since he led the program past Oklahoma while still serving in an interim capacity in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

The No. 8 Panthers became WVU's first top ten rated victim since that night in the Arizona desert. And while the Mountaineers earned that 48-28 victory with an explosive offense, this win featured only one touchdown for the victors.

The other 12 points scored by the home team all came from the leg of Bitancurt, who was perfect on the night. The redshirt freshman connected on kicks of 20, 43 and 39 yards in addition to the 43-yard game-winner.

"I am really proud of Tyler Bitancurt," said Stewart, recalling how he had personally recruited the placekicker and saying that his performance was "special."

That special night helped Stewart and company become the first WVU team to go undefeated at home since the 1993 squad did so en route to a perfect regular season.

Stewart needed points from the kicker -- or anywhere else he could get them -- after a first half that was uncharacteristically ugly for even the Backyard Brawl.

After the Panthers' Luke Briggs booted the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving WVU solid field position at its own 40-yard line, the Mountaineer offense promptly shifted into reverse.

Plays that lost one and nine yards, respectively, marked a drive that began with a false start penalty on right tackle Selvish Capers -- a poor start for the Louisiana native, who was one of 23 seniors honored before the game.

After Pittsburgh drove to the WVU 29-yard line and failed to add points when kicker Dan Hutchins pushed a 46-yard field goal wide to the right, the West Virginia offense quickly went back to being offensive.

The Mountaineers faced a first-and-25 situation after penalties for illegal formation and a leg whip eliminated potential plays.

After a second down pass to Tavon Austin lost three more yards, WVU finally gained yardage for the first time in the game when Noel Devine ran for three yards on third-and-28.

While the offense was stuck in reverse, the team's defense attacked with full force, earning a key three-and-out on the ensuing Pitt possession. The quick drive was brought to an end when quarterback Bill Stull was sacked by Julian Miller and Ovid Goulbourne for a loss of 10 yards on third-and-9.

That performance seemed to wake the Mountaineer offense from its slumber. WVU drove 59 yards to the Panthers' 1-yard line on 13 plays, picking up a pair of third down conversions in the process to keep the possession going.

But when Jarrett Brown was tackled a yard short of the goal line on third-and-goal, head coach Bill Stewart decided to gamble. The second-year head man opted to forego a chip-shot field goal attempt and instead sent his offense back onto the field for the second play of the second quarter.

The Mountaineers lined up in a super-jumbo set on the play, splitting no receivers out wide and using three tight ends and two men in the backfield. Instead of attempting to run it in, Brown took the snap and rolled to his left before being sacked by Pitt's Gus Mustakas.

"I wanted to win," Stewart said, explaining the decision to go for it. "I didn't want to kick field goals against the eighth-ranked team in the country. Coaches were screaming at me. I said, 'I'm going for the jugular. I don't care.'"

"I was playing to win as best I knew how."

While the white-clad visitors spilled off the sidelines and onto the field in celebration, the WVU defense ensured that any momentum gained by the Panthers would be short lived. Stull and company gained only five yards in three plays before punting the ball back to WVU.

Again, the WVU offense began to churn its way downfield slowly, eating up almost five more minutes off the clock in a 12-play, 44-yard drive. The team drove to the Panthers' 28-yard line, but Brown's third-and-9 pass to Bradley Starks fell incomplete.

Instead of opting for a 45-yard field goal attempt, Stewart again chose to keep the offense on the field. The decision once again did not work to the home team's advantage, as Brown had to avoid pressure before rushing for a mere yard on fourth-and-9.

Finally, head coach Dave Wannstedt and company took advantage. Stull hit wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin for a pair of 19-yard gains to flip field position, and Lewis ran for five yards on a third-and-3 from the Mountaineers' 26-yard line.

The WVU defense would stiffen, however, and Pitt would only gain two more yards before settling for a 37-yard field goal from Hutchins. It sailed through the uprights, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead with only 3:21 remaining in the half.

Momentum seemed to shift in the visitors' direction when the Panthers' defense forced West Virginia into a three-and-out.

But on the third play of their ensuing drive, Stull threw an interception into the waiting arms of cornerback Keith Tandy. The sophomore returned the ball to the Pitt 40-yard line with 1:03 remaining, giving his team one last chance to score before the break.

Brown and company converted a pair of third down conversions, drawing as close as the Panthers' 1-yard line yet again when Devine gained for nine yards on a third-and-2 play.

After Brown spiked the ball to stop the clock with 13.9 seconds left, left guard Josh Jenkins flinched before the ensuing snap. The false start penalty cost the Mountaineers five critical yards, and after Brown rushed for three yards on the next play, Stewart finally opted to send Bitancurt out for a 20-yard field goal.

The attempt sailed through with 4.8 seconds remaining, tying the score at 3-3 as the teams headed into the locker room for halftime.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

West Virginia's defense once again set the tone quickly in the second half, holding Pitt to a mere three yards on as many plays and forcing Hutchins to punt quickly.

After establishing a bit of a power game by running Ryan Clarke on three straight plays to begin the ensuing drive, Brown went to the air, hitting Wes Lyons for a 24-yard completion on a third-and-5 play to the visitors' 33-yard line.

Three plays and seven yards later, Bitancurt trotted onto the field. The redshirt freshman just hooked a 43-yard attempt inside the upright, giving West Virginia a 6-3 lead.

Sensing that the game was beginning to slip from his team's grasp, Wannstedt opted to go for a fourth-and-1 on the 50-yard line on the ensuing drive.

His boldness was rewarded, as freshman running back Dion Lewis took a pitch to the left and gained 30 yards on the play.

Three plays later, Hutchins booted through a 30-yard field goal to tie the game once more at 6-6.

On the next play, lightning finally struck.

Devine broke free around the left side and outran the entire Pittsburgh defense for an 88-yard touchdown. The junior's score energized the crowd of 56,123 at Milan Puskar Stadium and gave the Mountaineers a 13-6 advantage.

"It was a trap (play)," Stewart said. "Woody Hayes, Frank Cush, Don Nehlen's trap. (Most teams) don't even have it (in their playbooks) anymore. I'm probably the only coach that calls a trap in modern day football. So you're looking at a genius."

After Hutchins missed a 53-yard field goal attempt on his team's ensuing possession and Stull threw an interception on the next Pitt series after that, WVU seemed poised to take complete control.

Brown hit Arnett for 35 yards on the first play after Robert Sands' pick of Stull, putting the team in position at the Panthers' 26-yard line. Four plays later, Bitancurt hit a 39-yard field goal to give the Mountaineers a 16-6 lead with only 10:05 remaining.

In a deep hole considering its struggles, the Pittsburgh offense finally came to life.

After former WVU recruit Cameron Saddler returned Bitancurt's ensuing kickoff 39 yards to his team's 48-yard line, Stull wnet to work, hitting Baldwin for nine yards and Lewis for 14 more on back-to-back plays.

Lewis added 12 more on the ground on the next snap, but the drive would then stall at the West Virginia 19-yard line. Hutchins was true on his 36-yard attempt, drawing the visitors within 16-9 with 7:37 left.

After a Mountaineer punt, Stull again took to the skies. He hit Baldwin for 15 yards on the first play of his team's drive before throwing to Mike Shanahan for 10 more to get his team to the 50-yard line.

Pitt finally made its own big play on the next snap, as Stull took advantage of poor coverage to find Baldwin open for a 50-yard touchdown. The score, which came as a result of late-arriving safety help in the cover two package WVU had called, brought the Panthers back into a tie at 16-16 with only 2:54 left.

The crowd was stunned into silence, but Brown engineered one final drive, rushing for 10 yards and finding Arnett through the air for 11 more on successive plays.

But the senior quarterback's biggest play of the drive did not cover as many yards as those plays did. It did not put points on the board or even move the chains. But it made the outcome possible.

Brown flailed his way around a myriad of Pitt defenders on his way to a 9-yard gain on third-and-10. Opting to go for the fourth down conversion once more, Stewart finally was rewarded when Ryan Clarke just gained the needed yard to move the chains.

After Devine rushed for seven yards and Clarke added two more, Bitancurt came out on the field with four seconds remaining.

A timeout called by Wannstedt to attempt to "ice" the redshirt freshman proved fruitless, as the kicker's 43-yard kick easily sailed through the uprights, starting a raucous celebration on the field, as the seniors celebrated a significant win in their final home game at WVU.

Brown was 19-of-31 passing for 164 yards. Devine had 134 yards on the ground on his 17 attempts, and Clarke added 29 more yards on 10 carries.

For the Panthers, Lewis was as good as advertised, rushing for 155 yards on 26 carries. Stull struggled, completing only 16 of his 30 attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown toss, but he also threw two interceptions.

Baldwin grabbed eight of those 16 completions for 127 yards and a touchdown.

"When you lose the turnover battle by two and get penalties like we had tonight, it's tough to win a football game anywhere -- let alone on the road against a good football team," Wannstedt said.

Still, the Panthers' head coach can take comfort in knowing his squad can still win the Big East Conference championship and a BCS bowl berth if it can knock off Cincinnati next week at Heinz Field.

West Virginia's postseason fate still hangs on its season finale, which comes next week at Rutgers.

A few other key games -- notably the battle between the Panthers and Bearcats and a game between Notre Dame and Stanford -- could also go along way towards determining the Mountaineers' bowl destination.



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