West Virginia takes on Pitt in mishaps, spoiling thwarted bid

No one could argue that the first Backyard Brawl in 11 years lacked excitement.

Multiple head changes, momentum changes and a finished pass call nullified fourth-and-16 with 22 seconds left that took away a chance for West Virginia, trailing by a touchdown, to tie the game from the Pitt’s 1-yard line, were tips. icebergs.

All in all, Thursday night featured a thrilling showdown between the Panthers and the Mountaineers.

For West Virginia, there will certainly be some dignity in the loss, after facing the nation’s No. 17 team in a hostile Acrisure Stadium packed with 70,622 fans, the most ever gathered for a sporting event in the city. of Pittsburgh.

West Virginia held the defending ACC champions to 2.0 yards per carry, blocked a punt deep in Pitt’s territory and recovered a fumble in the loss.

The Mountaineers fired Panthers quarterback Kedon Slovis five times and kept him off balance for much of the night while racking up 404 total rushing yards on Pitt’s defenders.

Quarterback JT Daniels had a solid WVU debut, going 23 of 39 with 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while freshman tight end CJ Donaldson wreaked havoc on the Panthers defense, taking seven transfers for 125 yards.

But all things considered, Neal Brown’s Mountaineers must feel like they’ve missed a pretty solid chance to return to Morgantown with a season-opening win.

“Both teams made mistakes, both teams capitalized on the mistakes of the other team, but I thought it was a good game of football that went all the way,” said Browns. “I thought we had a chance.”

Arguably, the most important play of the game came late in the fourth quarter, with the Mountaineers putting on a promising drive.

With 2:58 to play, WVU wide Bryce Ford-Wheaton let a beauty of a Daniels pass through him, deflecting both hands into the orbit of Pitt defensive back MJ Devonshire, who continued to l ‘take 56 yards from home for a choice of six.

Ford-Wheaton’s blunder eclipsed an otherwise excellent night in which he led West Virginia in catches (9) and yards (97), while also passing two touchdowns.

“If I run Bryce 1,000 routes like this, it might happen once,” Daniels said. “It was just a fluke and it happened. For me, as soon as this piece is done, it’s like, ‘All right, next piece. Let’s go out and score.

Devonshire’s touchdown put the Panthers up, 38-31, but with just under three minutes left, there was plenty of time for West Virginia to respond.

The Mountaineers overcame a pair of false start penalties (both against right tackle Ja’Quay Hubbard), and following a pass interference call on Pitt’s Marquis Williams, Daniels found tight end Mike O’Laughlin near the right sideline for a critical 32-yard gain. .

At that time, there was 1 minute 12 seconds on the clock.

Two sacks from Daniels in just over 30 seconds forced a fourth-and-16 from Pitt’s 28-yard line, that is when Daniels threw a ball through the middle to Reese Smith which was initially ruled caught , putting WVU at Pitt’s 1-yard line with a golden opportunity to tie the game.

However, the refereeing team reviewed the play and determined that Smith was out of possession as he hit the ground with his chest.

So, Pitt took over with 22 seconds left and quickly ran over the clock.

After the game, Brown was clearly frustrated with the canceled call, referring to it several times in his remarks to the media.

“Our last play of the game, it’s going to be shown a lot, where I thought our guy’s hands were under the ball,” he said. “If your hands are under the ball, OK, then I believe it’s a trap. I’m sure it’s going to be explained to me every time (league officials) talk to me. … I need to better understand what is (a catch).

Daniels also addressed the play after the match, stating that from his perspective and based on his understanding of what constitutes a hold, Smith accepted it.

“I thought he did it based on the rule,” Daniels said. “I didn’t know the ball could hit the ground as long as the receiver had control. I thought he was in control, but I guess not.

Before the game came to a dramatic end, West Virginia looked set to build momentum after Donaldson successfully blocked a Sam Vander Haar punt early in the third quarter.

On their first possession of the second half, the Panthers fired three shots and looked to kick fourth-and-15 from their own 19-yard line.

After taking the snap, Vander Haar drifted to the right, taking a few steps too far, to where Donaldson got his hands on the punt.

WVU’s Hershey McLauren collected the ball and returned it 14 yards, setting the Mountaineers up with a first and a goal from the 5-yard line by Pitt.

Moments later, Donaldson burst through the middle for a touchdown, giving West Virginia a 17-10 lead.

With a chance to tack on some breathing room and continue to silence the crowd at Acrisure Stadium, the Mountaineers instead bet on their next two possessions.

As bitter as it is to lose a close game in a series of rivalries, for West Virginia to fall in the way of a ranked team by a touchdown is far from a death blow early in the season.

The Mountaineers have an extended week to recharge and recalibrate ahead of the Sept. 10 home opener at Milan’s Puskar Stadium against Kansas.

“All around, I felt good,” Daniels said. “I felt good with myself and really, the whole team in general, attack and defence. I am really (expletive) proud of this team.

Justin Guerriero is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Justin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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