M.J. Devonshire gave Pitt its first win over West Virginia since 2008.
Devonshire intercepted West Virginia’s JT Daniels on a tipped pass and ran it back 56 yards for a touchdown with 2:58 left to give No. 17 Pitt a 38-31 win over the Mountaineers. Thursday night’s matchup was the first game in the longtime rivalry known as the Backyard Brawl since 2011.
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West Virginia took a 31-24 lead with just over 10 minutes to go but Pitt tied the game with 3:41 to go after Kedon Slovis hit Israel Abanikanda for a 24-yard catch and run TD. Two plays later, Devonshire was in the end zone and the largest crowd in Pitt football history was going wild.
The Mountaineers had another opportunity to tie the game and nearly got a fantastic chance to do it. Reese Smith nearly made an incredible diving catch near the goal line on fourth down with 22 seconds left but the ball skidded across the turf as he attempted to bring it into his body.
Pitt’s late run was the third second-half instance of a team scoring 14 consecutive points. The Panthers did that in the third quarter to take a 24-17 lead before losing that lead to the Mountaineers in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
West Virginia grabbed the lead thanks to a run game that was gashing what seemed to be a tired Pitt defensive front. The Mountaineers averaged over six yards a carry and CJ Donaldson rushed for 125 yards on just seven carries. But West Virginia coach Neal Brown eschewed the opportunity to go for it on fourth down with a yard to go just inside Pitt territory with just over six minutes to go.
Brown instead chose to take a delay of game penalty and punt back to Pitt. That punt set up Pitt's 92-yard drive to tie the game.
All but four of those yards came via the pass too. A renewed focus on the run seemed to be a goal of coach Pat Narduzzi in the offseason after offensive coordinator Mark Whipple went to Nebraska, Biletnikoff-winning wide receiver Jordan Addison transferred to USC and Heisman finalist QB Kenny Pickett was drafted in the first round by the Steelers.
And while Pitt stayed committed to the run game on Thursday night, that was a futile commitment. The Panthers were much better passing the ball and should have thrown the ball more. Kedon Slovis finished with just 24 pass attempts while the Panthers had 29 rushing attempts. Slovis was 16-of-24 passing for 305 yards and could have had a lot more. A potential long TD pass to a wide-open Bub Means in the third quarter went through Means’ hands.
The win means Pitt's Week 2 matchup at home against Tennessee will be one of the bigger games of the weekend. The Vols easily beat Ball State at home on Thursday night and are widely predicted to finish second in the SEC East. West Virginia, meanwhile, will lament a golden opportunity to start a pivotal fourth season for Brown with a rivalry game win. The Mountaineers face Towson in Week 2 as they look to win more than six games in a season for the first time in Brown's tenure.