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Friday, November 25, 2011
Final: West Virginia 21, Pitt 20

By Andrea Adelson


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Well, West Virginia certainly made what could be the final Backyard Brawl quite dramatic.

The Mountaineers erased a 13-point second-half deficit behind a stifling defense and some gutsy play calling, overcoming their own share of mistakes to beat Pitt 21-20 Friday night and stay alive for a possible Big East title and BCS berth.

Pitt took a 20-7 lead less than four minutes into the third quarter after getting a field goal off a second muffed punt on the night. But among the several keys to this game, one big one was the West Virginia defense holding the Panthers to field goals inside the 20 off those two miscues.

The Panthers played very well on defense for most of the night, but the game-winning drive was an absolute killer. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald was flagged for a personal foul on a late hit that gave the ball to West Virginia at the Pitt 28. West Virginia decided to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Pitt 24, and Geno Smith made the decision to pay off when he got the first-down completion to Tavon Austin. Earlier in the half, coach Dana Holgorsen had decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Pitt 30, but the Mountaineers failed to convert.

After the Mountaineers converted on fourth down, Shawne Alston got the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:10 to go. Alston had two touchdown runs in the game, and the Mountaineers were worlds better on the ground in the second half -- another huge reason they came back.

Pitt had several chances to get into field-goal range, but the same old story line haunted the Panthers -- Tino Sunseri simply could not connect with receivers — and was sacked numerous times because he just wouldn't get rid of the football. The game ended when Sunseri fumbled on a sack; Panthers offensive lineman Ryan Schlieper recovered and rumbled ahead before being tackled.

Sunseri was sacked three times in seven plays on the final drive.

Much of that is because the West Virginia defensive line exerted itself after Pitt dominated in the first half. The Panthers were also ineffective once starting running back Zach Brown went down with a bruised sternum. After gaining 123 yards in the first quarter alone, Pitt was essentially stifled.

West Virginia turned the ball over three times but still found a way to win. Special teams was an Achilles' heel, again. But a win is a win, especially in this rivalry game.

Now, the Mountaineers need Cincinnati to win out to have any shot at a BCS game. If the season ends in a three-way tie among West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers, the Cardinals get the BCS bid based on their 2-0 record against those schools.