Neal Brown chases down ref after No. 17 Pitt’s 38-31 win over West Virginia, defends decision to punt

“The Backyard Brawl” was everything we had hoped for.

MJ Devonshire returned a tipped pass 56 yards for a touchdown with 2:58 remaining and No. 17 Pittsburgh beat West Virginia 38-31 on Thursday night in the return of the Backyard Brawl.

The Panthers edged their rivals for the first time since 2008 after a pass by West Virginia’s JT Daniels smacked off the hands of Bryce Ford-Wheaton and into the hands of Devonshire, who weaved his way through traffic to give Pitt its second touchdown in 43 seconds to turn a seven-point deficit into a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

The game wasn’t without controversey, though.

The Mountaineers drove deep into Pitt territory in the final minute and Daniels hit Reese Smith on a fourth-down fling that appeared to bring the ball to the Pitt 1. Briefly anyway. Replays showed the ball skimmed the turf before Smith could bring it in and the crowd of 70,622 — the largest to attend a sporting event in the city’s history — erupted.

“Don’t ask me what targeting is,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said in the postgame, per Ross Dellenger. “Don’t ask me what a catch is because I don’t know.”

It appears after the game Brown went after an official.

Southern California transfer Kedon Slovis threw for 308 yards and a touchdown in his debut with the Panthers in the opener for both teams. Rodney Hammond ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns before leaving in the fourth quarter because of a right leg injury that appeared serious.

Daniels, looking to revive his career following stints at USC and Georgia, completed 24 of 40 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns to Ford-Wheaton and the pick that Devonshire turned into Pitt’s first victory over its longtime rivals since 2008.

Freshman running back CJ Donaldson ran for 125 yards for West Virginia as the Mountaineers piled up 190 yards on the ground. Yet 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 punted.

Brown defended the decision to punt.

Pitt didn’t waste the opportunity. Slovis led the defending ACC champions 92 yards in seven plays, the last on a flip to running back Israel Abanikanda in which he slipped through three tackles for a 24-yard touchdown.

Four plays later Daniels’ pass to a wide-open Ford-Wheaton — a third-generation player for the Mountaineers — settled into the hands of Devonshire, who provided the exclamation point in the return of the 127-year-old series following a decade-long hiatus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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