One decade later, Pitt football hopes for repeat of '13-9,' the night 'disbelief turned to pandemonium'
A decade later, no one is predicting history will repeat itself Friday when Pitt plays No. 2 Miami at Heinz Field.
The college game is different today — more offense, less defense — and another 13-9 Pitt victory is highly unlikely under any circumstance. Pitt is finding different ways to lose every week; Miami is 10-0.
Yet, the comparisons between Pitt's iconic upset of West Virginia on Dec. 1, 2007, and the Panthers' last game this year are inescapable.
• Miami is No. 2 in the Associated Press and College Football Playoff polls. West Virginia was second in AP and Bowl Championship Series rankings, needing only a victory to go to the BCS championship game.
• Miami still must beat Clemson in the ACC championship to reach the Final Four, but the stakes are the same.
• Pitt is 4-7 (just like '07), and in both seasons it lost the two games immediately preceding the finale.
• Quarterbacks Bill Stull and Max Browne were lost to injuries, and freshmen — Pat Bostick and Kenny Pickett — played in their stead.
• West Virginia and Miami built their teams on speed.
• Both Pitt teams had their spirit challenged by earlier one-score defeats in which they had the ball on the 1-yard line late in the game and couldn't cross the goal line. LeSean McCoy fumbled at Louisville on Oct. 27, 2007, and Pitt lost, 24-17. Pitt had four shots to score Saturday at Virginia Tech and was turned away in a 20-14 defeat. In both games, a Pitt wide receiver appeared to score on previous plays, but video replay ruled Oderick Turner and Jester Weah down at the 1.
• One difference: Pitt was a 29½-point underdog in '07. Today, bookmakers give Pitt better odds. Miami is a 14-point favorite.
Is it possible Pitt can shock the college football world again, just like it did in Death Valley last year in the upset of Clemson?
Former Pitt defensive end Chris McKillop, who played the last football game of his life on that night in '07, is a shameless fan. But he knows his Pitt history, and it's almost always unpredictable.
“I hate to admit it,” said McKillop, an account manager for Norfolk Southern Railroad in Green Tree. “But sometimes Pitt wins the games they're supposed to lose and loses the games they're supposed to win. It wouldn't shock me at all for Pitt to beat Miami.”
Pitt defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who has returned after serving as special teams coordinator in '07, said 13-9 wasn't just a one-day event. “You felt something special happening during the week,” he said.
The upset may have taken root with a decision defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads made.
One day at practice, coach Dave Wannstedt noticed Rhoads working on tackling technique with his players. Twenty minutes later, Rhoads had moved to another type of tackling drill. This was late November — time to game-plan, not teach fundamentals, Wannstedt thought.
Wannstedt said he demanded to know why Rhoads was wasting so much time.
“He said, ‘Dave, if we don't tackle these guys, it's not going to make any difference what defense we run.' ”
Wannstedt, now a FOX football analyst, had planned a risky man-to-man defense, with plenty of blitzing, so he understood what Rhoads, now defensive coordinator at Arkansas, was trying to accomplish.
“It was either get them on the ground, or they were going 60 yards to score,” Wannstedt said.
On the other side of the ball, Bostick was hopeful, but guarded. Now Pitt's associate athletic director for major gifts and a radio analyst on game day, he said, “I'll be honest. I thought we were going to have to pull some sort of herculean effort.
“I thought we were going to have to do more offensively than we ended up doing to win. Our game plan was to slow it down, possess the ball and keep it away from them.”
Pitt knew it was headed for a backyard brawl before players got off the bus at Mountaineer Field.
“We drove up and people were throwing full cans of something at us,” Partridge said. “I remember Shady (McCoy) ducking down because he thought it was coming through the window.”
Early in the game, Pitt caught a break when West Virginia quarterback Pat White injured his thumb and did not return until the fourth quarter. As it turned out, Bostick's 1-yard quarterback sneak and two Conor Lee field goals of 48 and 18 yards were all the offense Pitt needed.
Bostick raised Wannstedt's ire by throwing two interceptions and calling a timeout at a strange moment. Of the timeout, Bostick said he had no choice: McCoy had gone blind.
“He had turf pellets in his eyes, and was saying, ‘I can't see. I can't see,' ” Bostick said.
When Bostick came to the sideline, Wannstedt, hopping along on crutches after recent Achilles and knee surgery, was livid. He said he went through two pair of crutches that night after slamming one set to the ground, screws and springs flying.
“He almost threw them at me,” Bostick said.
“I don't think I threw them at him,” Wannstedt said, “but I probably wanted to, to be honest with you.
“Pat was like a son to me, and he still is. Anytime anything went haywire in a game, I knew I could always take my frustrations out on Pat.”
After the second interception, Wannstedt went to offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, threatening to go to the wildcat formation with McCoy.
“I was so damn mad,” he said. “I said, ‘That's it. I've seen enough. I don't care if Shady carries the ball 50 times.' ”
McCoy carried 38 for 148 yards, but it was enough to win the game. Wannstedt said his running back left the game with “two or three broken ribs.”
“He was beat up.”
After the game, offensive lineman Mike McGlynn said he received an obscene gesture from some West Virginia fans, but he admitted, “We were egging them on as much as they were dishing it out to us.”
In the tiny visitors' locker room, Wannstedt said players — he brought the entire team so they could experience the rivalry — were crawling atop lockers to watch the celebration.
The shouting was so loud it could be heard through walls and into the room where West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, almost in tears, was holding his news conference.
“It was a nightmare,” Rodriguez said at the time. “A flat-out nightmare.”
Later, the father of West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee said his son, who missed two field goals, had his car vandalized and received death threats. McAfee, who became a Pro Bowl punter, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop, Chris' younger brother and now an assistant coach at Seton Hill, said the victory created “a buzz inside the Pitt program.”
Indeed, Pitt went on to average nine victories a season for the next three years, something that hadn't happened since 1981-83. Wannstedt said recruits who watched the game from the West Virginia sideline, flipped their allegiance and committed to Pitt. Among those committing to Pitt soon after the game were Cam Saddler, Shayne Hale, Tino Sunseri, Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan.
Back home, chanting students marched up Forbes Avenue to the Schenley Quadrangle and the Cathedral of Learning. Bostick said he even heard of couch burnings as a mocking jesture toward West Virginia fans.
“I think everyone's disbelief turned to pandemonium,” he said.
Chris McKillop has only one regret.
“Trust me, if I was allowed to have two beer cans and smash them together and pour them down my throat, I would have done it,” he said. “And I don't think coach Wannstedt would have minded.”
Partridge didn't want to compare this year's game to the upset, but he mused it might have changed history. Rodriguez (now at Arizona) accepted the Michigan job 16 days after the loss, and a few years later, Pitt and West Virginia left the crumbling Big East.
“What would have happened if West Virginia would have gone to the national title game?” Partridge said. “Who knows? Hard to say.”
Pitt senior cornerback Avonte Maddox offers a respectful bow at the altar of 13-9, but he reminds everyone that was half-a-generation ago.
“I saw a few videos of it,” he said. “I mean history is a great thing, but we live in the now. It's time to create more history.”