PITTSBURGH — The largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the city of Pittsburgh got to watch No. 17 Pitt defeat West Virginia, 38-31, in the renewal of the Backyard Brawl under the lights at Acrisure Stadium Thursday night.
With just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, fresh off a 92-yard touchdown drive — perhaps the best offensive drive of the night — led by Kedon Slovis and the Pitt offense, West Virginia had a chance to drive the length of the field for a game-winning touchdown.
WVU’s J.T. Daniels dropped back, threw a laser to Bryce Ford-Wheaton that clanged off his hands and right into the awaiting arms of M.J. Devonshire. Devonshire carried his momentum forward, raced through the heart of the shocked WVU offense and right into the end zone for a go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown.
With a 38-31 Pitt lead late in the fourth quarter, Acrisure Stadium as loud as it had been all night, WVU’s offense trotted onto the field. Daniels escaped the pocket with just under a minute and a half in the game, rolled out and found Mike O’Laughlin for a big gain. But SirVocea Dennis followed it up with a crucial sack, the clock continued to tick away.
With a 4th-and-16 from the Pitt 28-yard line, WVU’s Reese Smith nearly hauled in a circus catch to set WVU up inside the 1-yard line, but the ball hit the turf, and Pitt’s defense thwarted a potential game-winning drive from Daniels and WVU.
It wasn’t the best night for Slovis and the offense, but Slovis threw for 308 yards and a touchdown, Rodney Hammond Jr. racked up 125 yards of scrimmage and two touchdowns and the duo of Konata Mumpfield and Jared Wayne made big catches when needed.
The Pitt offense suffered prolonged bouts of stagnancy throughout the contest, and while Slovis has potential as a deep ball passer, he never really looked comfortable in the pocket. He held onto the ball for too long, threw a ball or two that should’ve been picked off and processed WVU’s defense slowly. But he did enough down the stretch when it mattered.
A slow start offensively for Pitt came courtesy of some poor starting field position, but it was seemingly a precursor for the entire night.
Slovis connected early with Jared Wayne, Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means on throws at least 15 yards downfield on a drive that started inside the 5-yard line. And an 11-play, 73-yard second drive was capped off by Ben Sauls’ first Pitt field goal — a 42-yard strike right into the heart of the student section.
But when Pitt gave WVU a chance, when a chance for the Pitt defense to get off the field was nullified by a defensive delay of game penalty, WVU hit hard. WVU’s CJ Donaldson ripped off a 49-yard run, and J.T. Daniels followed up by lofting a ball over A.J. Woods’ head. The much taller Bryce Ford-Wheaton ripped it down over Woods and gave WVU a 10-7 lead.
Pitt did not respond immediately to the WVU touchdown, instead pinning the Mountaineers inside their 1-yard line with a much improved Sam Vander Haar punt. A composure penalty on Habakkuk Baldonado, a personal foul taunting that turned a 3rd-and-9 from the 1-yard line to a 1st-and-10 from the 16. It didn’t come back to haunt Pitt though.
A fumble from Means didn’t either. With Pitt driving on the ensuing drive, Means cut through a pair of WVU defenders, turned up field and… dropped the football. He just dropped it. WVU’s Kaden Prather dropped on the next Mountaineers’ possession, but it was more so ripped from his hands by Marquis Williams — recovered by Erick Hallett.
A 15-yard rainbow to Mumpfield kicked off the possession, but it was Rodney Hammond Jr. who fueled the possession and barrelled into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to retake the lead. It didn’t take long for WVU to tie it back up to end the half. A circus catch from Ford-Wheaton, stolen from Hallett, helped WVU set up and nail a 24-yard field goal to end the half.
Pitt received the second half kickoff, but a quick three-and-out brought Vander Haar back onto the field, and Donaldson once again made his impact felt — on special teams and subsequently back on offense. Donaldson blocked Vander Haar’s punt, and WVU’s Hershey McLaurin returned it inside the 5-yard line. Donaldson powered into the end zone on the next play to give WVU a 17-10 lead.
A largely stagnant offense was jump-started by a nice read from Slovis, keeping a handoff that Hammond looked ready to take, and firing a dart to Wayne on a slant. Wayne rolled off a defender and galloped down inside the 5-yard line, a 64-yard catch and run. Hammond was called short of the goal line on the first carry, but Daniel Carter wasn’t able to be stopped as he tied the game.
A quick stop from Pitt’s defense got the ball back in Slovis’s hands, but it was more importantly back in Hammond’s hands. A quick swing pass to Hammond in the open field was aided by a key Bub Means block downfield, and Hammond raced 49 yards down the field to set up at the 11-yard line. And Hammond took a handoff on the next snap, dragged half the defense on his back and burst across the goal line for a go-ahead touchdown.
It was a football game that was undecided when it entered the fourth quarter, and it got even closer when WVU’s J.T. Daniels threw a perfect back shoulder ball to Bryce Ford-Wheaton in the corner of the end zone to tie the game back at 24 on the first play of the quarter.
Pitt came out with another stale offensive possession, and a monstrous college football debut continued from Donaldson. A 39-yard dash up the gut drove WVU across midfield, a Tony Mathis carry pushed inside the 5-yard line and a Daniels’ sneak stole the lead back.
With 10:37 left in the fourth quarter, Pitt trailed 31-24.
With a chance to lead Pitt down the field, Slovis hit Bub Means for a quick 15-yard gain. But the confidence in the pocket quickly eroded, and Slovis held onto the football for too long, taking two sacks in which he had at least five seconds in the pocket. WVU got the ball back, drove to midfield and decided to not go for a 4th-and-less than 1 with 6:25 left in the game.
With Pitt in desperate need of a touchdown, he guided the offense 92 yards in seven plays, a steady dose of Konata Mumpfield and a 24-yard dump to the flat taken 24 yards to the end zone by Israel Abanikanda.
Bangally Kamara led Pitt with eight tackles (six solo) and added two pass breakups, Dennis, Morgan, Baldonado and Green all recorded sacks and Williams and Devonshire forced turnovers.
Daniels threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, Donaldson ran for 125 yards and a touchdowns, Mathis ran for 71 yards and Ford-Wheaton caught nine receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Pitt will host Tennessee next weekend at Acrisure Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and with a win over WVU, the first half of the non-conference schedule is off to a good start.