WVU's White, Slaton double trouble for Pitt
For nearly 31 minutes, the 99th Backyard Brawl lived up to its name.
Pitt and West Virginia came out swinging, and each wild blow was answered by a haymaker in an endless and breathless display of offense.
Then, reality intervened, as did Pat White and Steve Slaton.
Forty-eight seconds into the second half, White's 64-yard dash gave No. 8 West Virginia a lead it wouldn't surrender. And Slaton's 55-yarder was the knockout blow in a 45-27 victory over Pitt on Thursday night before 55,642 at Heinz Field and an ESPN national television audience.
"We knew we'd take a good shot from Pitt, and we got it," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Added Slaton: "I don't think any other team has two threats like us -- guys who can take it the distance on any play."
Slaton scored four touchdowns and became the first player in West Virginia history to finish with 100 or more yards rushing (215 on 23 carries) and receiving (130 on six receptions) in a game, finishing with career highs in both categories.
"They were sticking a linebacker with me," Slaton said, referring to Pitt sophomore Tommie Campbell. "It was just a mismatch."
Yet Slaton took a backseat to White, who rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns and completed 11-of-16 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
"Pat White is one of the best quarterbacks I've ever been around," Rodriguez said. "I think Pat White is one of the best in the country."
Imagine if he was healthy. White was bothered by turf toe.
West Virginia entered with the nation's No. 3 offense, averaging 462.89 yards per game. The Mountaineers nearly ran for that many (437 on 47 carries) and outgained the Panthers, 641-340, in total offense.
Surprisingly, it's not a record against Pitt, as Virginia Tech had 675 in 1993.
"I'm shaking my head at a lot of things right now," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You'd like to think we're better than that. (Last night), we weren't."
With Pitt's defense geared to stop Slaton, White led West Virginia (9-1, 4-1 Big East) to 268 first-half yards.
When Pitt (6-5, 2-4) adjusted to stop the Mountaineers' sophomore quarterback, Slaton answered by showing he was a dual threat, catching scoring passes of 11 and 67 yards.
"There's not too many people that can run with Steve," White said. "He just ran by him, and I put the ball there."
The Mountaineers needed every yard in a first half, when Pitt threw the first punch and kept swinging until time expired. There were five lead exchanges, including one on a dazzling, 73-yard punt return by Pitt's Darrelle Revis, before Conor Lee's 39-yard field goal with 56 seconds left gave the Panthers a 27-24 halftime edge.
"We've got to find a way to close games, whether it's the last seven minutes or the second half," said Wannstedt, whose Panthers blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 46-45, double-overtime loss at Connecticut last Saturday. "When you get somebody in position where you have an opportunity to put them away, you have to do that."
White and Pitt's Tyler Palko combined to complete 26-of-32 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns, as the teams accounted for 533 yards total offense on 61 plays.
That was just in the first half, mind you.
Once Pitt fell behind, however, the Panthers were forced to throw. Although Palko finished 28 of 37 for 341 yards and two touchdowns, West Virginia sacked him eight times. The Panthers finished with minus-1 rushing yards, as LaRod Stephens-Howling's 35 yards on nine carries were offset by Palko's minus-40.
"They made us one-dimensional because of the score," Wannstedt said.
The first punt of the game, by Pitt's Adam Graessle, didn't come until at 12:59 of the third quarter.
Graessle slipped on his second punt, which rolled to the WVU 3. The Mountaineers responded with a four-play, 97-yard scoring drive that comprised only 1:33 and sealed the game's fate.
On first down, Slaton ran for 35 yards before Revis brought him down by the facemask, drawing an additional 15-yard penalty. White ran for 26 yards up the middle, and Slaton added a 2-yard gain to the 19 before White raced 19 yards for a touchdown and a 38-27 lead.
Pitt used a no-huddle offense on its first possession to go 81 yards in nine plays, scoring when Palko tossed a 23-yard pass to freshman tight end Nate Byham.
West Virginia answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 43-yard pass to Slaton and capped by his 15-yard run up the middle on an inside handoff to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter.
Lowell Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the West Virginia 34, but Pitt's offense stalled. West Virginia took over, and White threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Slaton in the left corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
The Panthers countered with an 84-yard scoring drive, as Palko found Turner for a 35-yard pass play and later rolled left to toss a 15-yarder in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 14-14 with 11:25 to play in the second quarter.
West Virginia converted its first four third-down attempts but saw its next drive stall at Pitt's 34, where Kennard Cox broke up a pass intended for Brandon Myles. Pat McAfee kicked a 51-yard field goal -- the longest in Heinz Field history, college or pro -- to give West Virginia a 17-14 lead.
But Lee drilled a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17 with 4:25 left in the half. The Panthers finally stopped a West Virginia drive, forcing a McAfee punt. Revis fielded it at the 27 and produced a 73-yard return that probably will go down as one of the most dazzling in Pitt history.
Revis ran right, sprung by a Derek Kinder block that leveled West Virginia's Ridwan Malik and Brad Palmer in one blow. Revis tiptoed the Pitt sideline, slipping by Charles Pugh, then slowed for his blockers. Revis eluded McAfee and Larry Williams, then spun off Franchot Allen at the 5 and waltzed into the end zone for a 24-17 lead.
West Virginia answered with a 67-yard pass from White to Slaton along the visiting sideline to tie the game with 59 seconds left in the half.
But, despite starting at its 17, Pitt looked to take a lead into the half. Palko connected with Kinder for 44 yards, Marcel Pestano for 13 and Kinder for 4 to set up Lee's 39-yard field goal that gave the Panthers a 27-24 halftime advantage.
It lasted all of 48 seconds.
On West Virginia's second play of the second half, White ran for the touchdown that gave the Mountaineers a 31-27 lead. He added a 19-yard scoring run with 5:03 left in the third to increase the margin to 11 points, and Slaton added a 55-yard scoring run to give the Mountaineers a 28-point lead.
"It was a good win," Rodriguez said. "I'm proud of our guys. I thought our defense was outstanding in the second half, and our offense was outstanding the whole game."