Panthers Rally to Defeat West Virginia 38-31 University Athletics

PITTSBURGH – The largest crowd to ever watch a sporting event in Pittsburgh – 70,622 – saw Pitt rally in the fourth quarter to defeat West Virginia 38-31 in the 105th edition of the Backyard Brawl.
It’s the first time these two longtime rivals have faced each other since 2011 when they were members of the Big East Conference, and it snapped WVU’s three-game winning streak in the series.
Pitt (1-0) registered the game’s first points with 37 seconds left in the first quarter when Ben Sauls punched in a 42-yard field goal, culminating an 11-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:48 of the clock.
Panther quarterback Kedon Slovis completed a pair of first-down-gaining passes to Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield, accounting for 35 yards, and then scrambled for 14 yards toward the far side of the field to the Mountaineer 47. Another Slovis aerial to Bub Means for 15 yards got the ball to the WVU 34 before the drive stalled.
West Virginia (0-1) answered early in the second quarter when JT Daniels hooked up with Bryce Ford-Wheaton for a 10-yard scoring strike to the nearside of the field. The big play was CJ Donaldson’s 44-yard run on third and 1 carry the football to the Panther 10. It was Donaldson’s only carry of the first half.
Casey Legg’s conversion kick gave West Virginia a 7-3 lead with 12:45 left in the second quarter.
Later, an exchange of fumbles, the second coming by Kaden Prather at the WVU 35, resulted in Pitt’s lone touchdown of the first half. After a Means 2-yard gain, Slovis flipped a 15-yard pass to Mumpfield, who got a foot down before going out of bounds at the Mountaineer 18.
A Rodney Hammond 12-yard run took the ball to the 6, and then on third and 4, Hammond powered the ball into the end zone, taking West Virginia’s Lance Dixon with him.
Sauls’ conversion kick gave Pitt a 10-7 lead with 3:23 remaining in the half.
The Panthers were hunting more points late in the half when West Virginia was faced with a third and 13 at its own 16, but Ford-Wheaton came up with a 15-yard catch on a 50-50 ball that was caused by Panther defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre hitting Daniels’s arm as he threw. Another Ford-Wheaton 12-yard reception got the ball to the WVU 43, and Tony Mathis Jr’s. 18-yard run took it to the Panther 39.
Prather’s 23-yard catch and run gave West Virginia another first down at the 16, but two plays later, Ford-Wheaton was stopped a yard short of the marker at the Pitt 7. Here, Neal Brown opted to run down the clock to set up Legg’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
Donaldson’s second rush of the game ended in the end zone when he carried three Panther defenders across the goal line from the 5 on WVU’s initial possession of the third quarter.
It was Donaldson who got the football there when he blocked Sam Vander Haar’s punt at the Pitt 19 and safety Hershey McLaurin scooped up the football and returned it 14 yards before getting tackled out of bounds by Daniel Carter.
Prior to that, Pitt’s opening possession of the third quarter ended when Jared Bartlett sacked Slovis for a 7-yard loss on third-and-8 play.
Following an exchange of possessions, Pitt knotted the score at 17 with 5:54 left in the third quarter when Carter jumped over the pile from the 1. The big play was a Slovis RPO pass to Wayne, who caught the football on a dead run across the middle and raced 64 yards before getting dragged down from behind by safety Aubrey Burks at the 1.  
Then, it took Pitt only 1:26 to retake the lead.
One play after West Virginia’s three-and-out possession gave the Panthers the football back at their own 38, Hammond took a swing pass from Slovis on a dead run and raced up the near sideline for a 49-yard gainer before he was finally pulled down by Dixon and Wesley McCormick at the WVU 11.
Hammond got the football again from the 11 and carried a couple of WVU defenders about 6 yards on his back across the goal line. Sauls’ conversion kick made it 24-17, Panthers.
Four minutes later, West Virginia answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that led to Ford-Wheaton’s 16-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone. Donaldson’s 20-yard run that included a 15-yard face mask penalty called on Brandon Hill was the play that put WVU in business at the Panther 17.
A six-play, 72-yard march – nearly all on the ground – put West Virginia back in the lead. Donaldson, who became the first Mountaineer since Martell Pettaway in 2016 to rush for more than 100 yards in his collegiate debut, broke free for a 39-yard gainer to the Panther 33.
Two plays later, Mathis got loose for 23 yards to the Pitt 1 and then Daniels capped the drive with his first touchdown run of his collegiate career. Sixty three of those 72 yards were on the ground.
Legg’s conversion kick made the score 31-24, West Virginia, with 10:37 showing on the clock.
West Virginia couldn’t move the sticks on a third and three at the 50 and was forced to punt the football back to Pitt, which took over at its own 8. The Panthers used a seven-play, 92-yard drive that was aided by a targeting penalty on McCormick, to tie the game – the knotting scoring coming on Israel Abanikanda’s 24-yard catch and run.
The Panthers got a huge break on West Virginia’s following possession when Daniels’ pass went through Ford-Wheaton’s hands and into the arms of M.J. Devonshire at the Panther 44. Devonshire followed a convoy of blockers down the far sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.
Sauls’ conversion kick made it 38-31, Pitt, with 2:58 to go.
West Virginia got to Pitt’s 22, thanks to tight end Mike O’Laughlin’s 32-yard catch to the Panther 22, but a couple of sacks forced West Virginia to try a fourth-and-16 pass play at the Panther 28.
Daniels’ pass down the middle of the field to Reese Smith was ruled a catch at the Pitt 1 on the field, but replay revealed the ball moving as Smith tried to pick it off the grass surface.
Pitt took a knee twice to run out the clock in a game that lasted four hours and six minutes.
For the winners, Slovis completed 16 of his 24 pass attempts for 308 yards and a touchdown, five of those going to Mumpfield for 71 yards. Wayne contributed 89 yards on just three receptions.
Hammond was Pitt’s leading ground gainer with 74 yards on 16 carries.
Daniels, in his WVU debut, was successful on 23 of his 40 pass attempts for 214 yards and two touchdowns, but he was the victim of several dropped passes. Ford-Wheaton accounted for 97 yards on his nine catches, while Donaldson led all ball carriers with 125 yards on just seven attempts.
West Virginia opens at home next Saturday night against Kansas in a game that will kick off at 6 p.m. It will be the Big 12 opener for both teams.

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