PITTSBURGH — The Panthers started Saturday’s Backyard Brawl with West Virginia with a built-in advantage, as the Mountaineers forfeited two of the first three weight classes.
From there, the Panthers added on, taking home the 64th edition of rivalry, 37-3 and avenging a 24-10 loss in Morgantown a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Gregg Harvey struck the deciding blow, beating Josh Ramirez, 5-3 at 174 pounds.
West Virginia forfeited at 125 pounds when Pitt transfer KJ Fenstermacher couldn’t make weight. The Mountaineers also forfeited at 141 pounds.
“I thought we performed well, and yeah, they had some guys not make weight today, and that certainly helps with the team score, but we’re looking at each individual match,” head coach Keith Gavin said.
No. 6 Micky Phillippi (7-1) started the rout with a 19-4 technical fall over freshman Lucas Seibert, who was making his dual meet debut at 133 pounds for the Mountaineers. After the second forfeit, the Panthers had a dominant 17-0 lead and three ranked wrestlers that had yet to see the mat.
“You’ve got to go out there and want to put points on the board no matter what,” Phillippi said. “Even when you’re winning, keep going, keep building on that lead. An offensive mindset, that’s what wins matches. That’s what wins big matches, and we’re working toward that ultimate goal at the end of the year.”
After Phillippi’s win, the Panthers and Mountaineers traded victories, with WVU’s Christian Monserrat prevailing, 4-0, over Robert Lee at 149 pounds. No. 10 Taleb Rahmani improved to 7-2 for Pitt after beating Zachary Moore, 3-1 at 157 pounds. Jake Wentzel (5-3) jumped out to a 4-0 lead and held on for a 5-2 victory over Nick Kiussis at 165 pounds, making the Pitt lead 23-3.
That set up Harvey’s deciding match. He got a first-period takedown against Ramirez. A Harvey escape and a stalling call against Ramirez made it 4-0 after two periods and Harvey was able to escape after being taken down in the third period to hang on for a meet-deciding 5-3 win.
From there, the Panthers added on, with No. 12 Nino Bonaccorsi (7-3) dominating Jackson Moomau for a 16-1 technical fall just 20 seconds into the second period. Both Phillippi and Bonaccorsi were clinical in their dominance, wasting little time before creating a big advantage.
“We’re trying to create that kind of attacking style,” Gavin said. “I want people to know that when they wrestle Pitt, it’s going to be a scrap. Those guys embody that.”
At 197 pounds, Kellan Stout used a two-point second-period near fall to take the lead and won, 5-3 over Noah Adams. No. 12 heavyweight Demetrius Thomas (14-2) powered his way to over four minutes of riding time in a 6-4 victory over Brandon Ngati.
Pitt’s 34-point margin of victory was their largest in the Backyard Brawl since winning by 39 points (42-3) in 1978. The Panthers didn’t feel the need to build up the rivalry aspect beforehand, but definitely took pride in the dominant victory.
“If you get caught up in that, then your mind is in the wrong place, but it definitely means something,” Phillippi said. “They’re close-by. I know a lot of the guys on the team. Some of them are even my friends. It’s definitely cool to get a win there and it’s cool to see everyone be able to get to the match and watch. This place was pretty packed tonight.”
The Panthers will have to move past the rivalry quickly, as they host Bucknell on Sunday and travel to Clarion on Dec. 21 before the holiday break. But there’s definitely something that can be taken from such a lopsided victory over a major rival.
“I think it builds on our confidence,” Phillippi said. “A lot of our guys are young, but they’re very talented. We all believe in ourselves. That’s what it was tonight.”
During intermission, the Panthers honored wrestling alumnus Daniel Lecce. A 1984 letterman, Lecce is now a major general in the United States Marine Corps and is the currently the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. After being commissioned into the Marine Corps, Lecce returned to Pitt for his juris doctorate, which he completed in 1987.