By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart said this week that fundamentals win most games, especially rivalry games.
The West Virginia coach proved to be as accurate with that assessment as, say, a 43-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Mountaineers to a thrilling 19-16 defeat of visiting Pittsburgh in Friday's Backyard Brawl.
Kicker Tyler Bitancourt connected on the game's final play, triggering a midfield celebration that no one layered in blue and gold wanted to end. With fans screaming behind him, Bitancourt even spoke to ESPN as the party kicked into high gear. For a night in Morgantown at least, Bitancourt will be regarded as the most interesting man in the world.
The play was set up after West Virginia barely got a first down on 4th and 1 at the Pitt 27. Two plays later, the home team let the clock tick down to :03 before calling a timeout, which was followed by a Pitt timeout. Bitancourt, who'd made three field goals earlier in the game, wasn't rattled by the delay, despite frigid conditions all night long at Mountaineer Field.
But back to fundamentals. The Panthers turned the ball over twice and missed two field goals, while the Mountaineers, though far from perfect, made no such mistakes.
Talented Pittsburgh freshman Dion Lewis, among the nation's top running backs, picked up 155 yards on the night, but it was quarterback Bill Stull's right arm that finally got the visitors into the end zone. He threw a 50-yard rainbow that Jonathan Baldwin raced under and caught just before the goal line, having beaten the West Virginia defense to tie the score at 16-16 with 2:54 left.
That's when Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown took over, calmly leading his offense into Pittsburgh territory and turning a late possession into a game-winning drive after almost turning the trick in his team's last outing two weeks ago at Cincinnati.
West Virginia also scored only one touchdown, and it too was of the big-play variety. Noel Devine took a first-down handoff late in the third quarter and hurried 88 yards down the left sideline to break a 6-6 tie.
The loss might have been more damaging to Cincinnati (11-0, 6-0 Big East) than to Pittsburgh (9-2, 5-1). The teams play at Heinz Field on Dec. 5 for the Big East championship. Despite Friday's loss, Pitt can still win the league with a defeat of the fifth-ranked Bearcats, who beat Illinois Friday afternoon. But with the Panthers expected to tumble in the rankings, UC misses out on a chance to beat a Top 10 opponent and earn some last-minute BCS cred.