West Virginia sacks Pitt in Backyard Brawl
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen gambled and won, and as a result the Pitt season is lost.
In the 104th and, perhaps, final installment of the Backyard Brawl, West Virginia survived three turnovers and repeated errors to rally for a 21-20 victory Friday night in front of a crowd of 60,932 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
When the game was available for someone to win it, Holgorsen seized the moment.
The Mountaineers trailed, 20-14, midway through the fourth quarter when they faced a fourth-and-6 from the Pitt 24. Instead of kicking a field goal and hoping to get another chance, Holgorsen went for the first down and the victory.
Quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 244 yards and a touchdown, responded with a 9-yard completion to Tavon Austin. Three plays later, running back Shawne Alston recorded the decisive points on a 1-yard run.
The victory moved West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) a half-game behind first-place Louisville in the Big East, keeping alive its hopes for a BCS bid with one game remaining Thursday at South Florida.
"We just felt like we needed to roll the dice," Holgorsen said. "We needed to score at that point. It's one of those calls where you get questioned either way. I'm glad we converted."
From that point, Holgorsen turned the game over to his defense.
Pitt moved efficiently in the first half and took a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter on touchdown runs by Zach Brown and freshman Isaac Bennett.
But when West Virginia muffed two punts — spanning the second and third quarters — Pitt managed only two field goals by Kevin Harper, allowing the Mountaineers to rally for their third consecutive victory in the Backyard Brawl.
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was sacked 10 times by a West Virginia defense that came into the game with 16 in the previous 10 games. Four happened on Pitt's final possession, causing coach Todd Graham to wonder how it happened.
"It's puzzling, head-scratching," he said. "I don't understand it. It's disappointing, obviously not what we are trying to execute.
"Two-minute situation, we practice it all the time. Obviously, you can't take sacks and we sat there and took one right after another."
Pitt (5-6, 3-3) remains one game short of bowl eligibility in Graham's first season.
West Virginia began its comeback in the third quarter by turning to its running game. Backs Dustin Garrison and Alston combined for 44 of 60 yards, with Alston scoring from the 8 with 8:59 left in the third quarter to cut Pitt's lead to 20-14.
Pitt running back Zach Brown bruised his sternum in the second quarter and did not return after leading all rushers in the first half with 67 yards on 15 carries. Freshman wide receiver Ronald Jones (concussion) also missed most of the game.
Graham said he was "devastated by the loss."
"We are absolutely, just crushed, devastated," he said. "We have a whole bunch of guys in (the locker room), especially this senior bunch, that has really bought in to how we are doing things.
"We are playing so good in so many areas, and there are some areas that are absolutely killing us."
Safety Andrew Taglianetti, who recovered two fumbles, was at a loss to explain how Pitt lost.
"There's a 1 percent chance that if you have (three) turnovers, you are going to end up losing the game," he said. "Yeah, it's frustrating."