MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - If this was going to be the last time both Pitt and West Virginia met for a football game, then they sure got it right. With hopes of a possible share of the Big East title at stake for the winner serving as just an appetizer, the underlying tone of bragging rights for the foreseeable future represented the main course.
In the beginning, Pitt came hungry while WVU looked like they had eaten one too many servings at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
The Panthers opened up with a stingy defense, slowing down Mountaineer QB Geno Smith, while his counterpart Tino Sunseri guided the Panthers to a pair of 1st quarter TD drives. Add two botched punt return catches by the Mountaineers that led to several Panther scores and you had the recipe for a blowout.
Not so fast my friends. This is Pitt Panther football. Where even the biggest lead can disappear with the slightest momentum swing.
Fueled by Geno Smith and the uptempo style of play Dana Holgorsen is known for, the Mountaineers rallied at home to the delight of over 60,000 fans scoring two touchdowns after trailing 20-7 to take a 21-20 lead.
The Panthers would get two more chances to score, but West Virginia’s defense forced five sacks, while Panther quarterback Tino Sunseri would fall apart with poor decision-making to kill any chances of a comeback, giving WVU a one point win.
Don’t get me wrong, this loss isn’t all Tino’s fault. But his play in the last 6:04 wasn’t that of a red shirt junior. He played more like a true freshman making his debut in a hostile enviornment. His wide receivers didn’t do him many favors, dropping several passes. Pitt led for the majority of the game, but in the end couldn’t do enough to win.
‘It’s frustrating when you don’t execute what you practice,’ said head coach Todd Graham afterwards. ‘Our defense was stellar against a great offense. We had plenty of opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize.”
It’s hard to imagine this was the last game in the series. At least for the forseeable future.
The 104th meeting between these bordering rivals proved nothing less than a thrilling end to this great college football rivalry if you happen to be a Mountaineer fan. With Pitt heading to the ACC and WVU off to the Big 12, I don’t see either school finding a way to meet each season from here on out.
As conferences expand past a dozen teams, nine-game conference schedules will become the norm. That means having just three non-conference games each season to play. Two of those will be slotted for I-AA schools, allowing you to pad your win totals and keep the boosters happy, leaving just one game left to schedule against another opponent.
Despite having played against each other so many times, despite having such history and let’s be honest, hatred for one another, in the end you just can’t expect to see this game being played again anytime soon. Not when schools have their non-conference opponents locked up nearly 10 years in advance.
For it to end like this for Pitt is sad. They had this one in their hands, only to watch it slip away like so many games this year. Like so many in previous years. Now the question is can they rebound in eight days against Syracuse to get that sixth win and lock up a bid to some bowl game that nobody cares about.
John Phillips is the author of this article and a secret member of the Galactic Empire. When he’s not chasing down Jedi across the Rankin Bridge, he can be heard hosting weekend talk-shows and anchoring sports updates on 93.7 The Fan. Follow JP on Twitter at www.twitter.com/937Phillips