Monday, February 6, 2023

WATCH: Pitt Six sends No. 17 Panthers over West Virginia in thrilling renewal of Backyard Brawl

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The 105th edition of Backyard Brawl lived up to all the hype its renewal brought following an 11-year hiatus with the game delivering an instant classic that saw No. 17 Pittsburgh win after scoring two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, the latter score being a game-winning pick six. The Panthers victory broke a three-game losing streak in the series, which given the hiatus made it Pitt’s first win at West Virginia since 2008.

Pitt first got itself back in the game as quarterback Kedon Slovis tossed a touchdown to Israel Abanikanda, capping a 92-yard drive with the game-tying score. Less than 60 seconds later, M.J. Devonshire hauled in a tipped ball, chugging it 56 yards down the field for an interception return score dubbed the Pitt Six to put the Panthers ahead a touchdown in the 38-31 victory.

The one-two punch of clutch scores sent the crowd of 70,622 into a frenzy shortly after West Virginia had stolen all the momentum with two touchdowns of its own early in the fourth quarter. The interception itself was a bit of a fortunate bounce for the Panthers as Mountaineers wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton — WVU’s player of the game to that point with nine catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns — saw the ball bounce right off his hands and into the mitts of the opposition. 

West Virginia had a chance to offer a response, marching into Pitt territory and even getting a fourth-down heave from JT Daniels to the goal line that was close enough to a catch to be reviewed in the game’s 30 seconds. But the relentless pressure of Pitt’s defense proved to be too much in the game’s closing moments, and the aforementioned play was ruled incomplete.

After the game, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt that he was “miserable” because of how much the Panthers had to clean up from their performance moving forward. Pitt was favored to win in this hotly-contested rivalry game, but that status did not come with the expectation of needing two late touchdowns to escape with a victory.

Pitt hit some big plays with Slovis, but an experienced and talented Panthers defense also found itself chasing rather than dominating for extended stretches of the game. The reigning ACC champions emerged with a victory but also with plenty work on if they are going to defend that title against the likes of No. 4 Clemson, No. 13 NC State and No. 16 Miami

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