Pittsburgh, PA—-The Backyard Brawl has been dormant since 2011. It now has a new life and energy. Both Pittsburgh and West Virginia teams welcomed the renewed rivalry.
The game ended in pure excitement, Backyard Brawl style with a pick six to seal the contest. Pittsburgh’s defensive back MJ Devonshire snagged a pass that caromed off the hands of West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton and raced 56 yards to the end zone with 2:58 remaining as the Panthers rallied for a 38-31 victory Thursday night in the return of the Brawl following a 10-year hiatus.
Pitt had just tied the game on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to Israel Abanikanda with 3:41 to go. Four plays later, West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels found a wide-open Bryce Ford-Wheaton only to see the ball smack of Ford-Wheaton’s hands and settle into Devonshire’s awaiting arms. Afterwards, the Mountaineers drove deep into Pitt’s territory in the final minute just to add more hype to an already exciting game.
Daniels hit Reese Smith on a fourth-down fling pass that appeared to the put ball to the Pitt 1. But replay cameras showed that the ball skimmed the turf before Smith could bring it in cleanly and the crowd of 70,622 – the largest to attend a sporting event in the city’s history – erupted. Acrisure stadium actually shook.
Quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in his debut for the Panthers in the opener. Rodney Hammond rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns before leaving in the fourth quarter because of a right leg injury that appeared serious.
WVU Daniels completed 23 of 39 passes for 214 yards with two touchdowns to FordWheaton and that one pick that Devonshire turned into Pitt’s first victory over its longtime rivals since 2008.
The Mountaineers piled up 190 yards on the ground, but fourth-year coach Neal Brown didn’t feel confident enough in his running game to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Pitt 48 midway through the fourth quarter and his team up 31-24. Daniels lined up in an effort to draw the Panthers offside and when he didn’t, the Mountaineers had to punt.
Pitt came on the field with momentum. Slovis led the defending 2021 ACC champions 92 yards in seven plays, the last play was a flip to running back Israel Abanikanda in which he slipped through three tackles for a 24-yard touchdown.
Neither team looked great early but that made this contest a real brawl. Both teams need to improve in all areas if they intend on being noteworthy competitors in their remaining games. West Virginia: Brown likely needs the Mountaineers to take a step forward in 2022 to engender a little job security.
While Daniels definitely appears to be an definite upgrade at quarterback, his coach continues to be snake-bitten in tight games. His inability to trust an offensive line that held its own against a defensive front that expects to be among the best in the ACC if not the country was curious and ultimately, costly.
As both teams prepare for next week’s competition, they both have possible wins looming.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers open Big 12 play at home on Sept. 10 against Kansas. West Virginia has won eight straight against the Jayhawks.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers welcome Tennessee on Sept. 10. Expect Tennessee to be looking for some revenge since Pitt edged the Volunteers 41-34 in Knoxville last September.