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The Pitt News

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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Pamela Smith, managing editor.
Column | In the blink of an eye, in the click of a shutter
By Pamela Smith, Managing Editor • April 20, 2024
Fresh Perspective | Final Farewell
By Julia Smeltzer, Digital Manager • April 19, 2024

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Pamela Smith, managing editor.
Column | In the blink of an eye, in the click of a shutter
By Pamela Smith, Managing Editor • April 20, 2024
Fresh Perspective | Final Farewell
By Julia Smeltzer, Digital Manager • April 19, 2024

‘Country roads, take me home’: Pitt football falls flat in Backyard Brawl, loses to West Virginia 17-6

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Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor

At the start of the fourth quarter of the Backyard Brawl on Friday night, a tune familiar to Pitt fans began to play at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. As Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond echoed throughout the stadium, it became clear that West Virginia fans were mocking their Pitt counterparts. 

Instead of the usual “Let’s go Pitt” chants usually heard at Pitt home games during the song, West Virginia fans replaced the line with a three-word chant of their own. 

But Pitt football did exactly what West Virginia fans told it to do, as the Panthers (1-2, ACC 0-0) fell to the Mountaineers (2-1, Big 12 0-0) 17-6 in the 106th edition of the Backyard Brawl.

Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor

Despite the loss, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was proud of his team for their effort, but said turnovers killed the Panthers. Pitt ultimately turned the ball over three times, with all three coming from interceptions. 

“The kids fought their tail off, like they always do,” Narduzzi said. “But the difference in the game is turnovers. They made some plays on the ball that we didn’t.” 

Pitt’s offense struggled immensely in the contest, as it did not score a single touchdown all game. Panthers redshirt quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s performance was especially poor in the loss. The redshirt senior completed just eight passes and threw three interceptions in the loss.

But Jurkovec’s coaches and teammates railed behind their quarterback after the loss, despite his poor performance. Narduzzi answered with a simple “No” when asked if he considered benching the signal caller during the game. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Jake Kradel also defended his teammate. 

“Phil [Jurkovec] is a great dude,” Kradel said. “There is no question about him. He doesn’t waiver at all. He keeps us up, we keep him up. I have so much confidence in that guy. If we continue to block for him, give him time to throw, he’ll make plays.”

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defense had little answer for West Virginia’s run game. Mountaineer sophomore running back CJ Donaldson ran all over the Panthers, posting 102 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Mountaineers ultimately accumulated 151 rushing yards as a team in the game. 

Redshirt senior linebacker Shayne Simon said Donaldson had a good game, but said his team needs to work on a few things to prevent another poor defensive effort.

“He had some good cutback lanes,” Simon said about Donaldson. “But we have to be more downhill, be more physical and make some more plays.”

Pitt’s defense started the game strong, forcing a Mountaineer three and out on their first drive. Panther senior defensive end Dayon Hayes led Pitt’s solid defensive start as he batted down a pass on the second play of the game. 

The Panthers’ offense — which struggled early in last week’s loss to Cincinnati — also kicked off the action with a strong drive. Pitt’s rushing attack was on full display on its first drive, accumulating 67 yards to start the game. But the run game stalled out in the red zone and Pitt was forced to settle for a field goal. The Panthers made the field goal and took the early 3-0 lead.

West Virginia was dealt a major blow on its second drive of the game, as junior quarterback Garrett Greene went down with an apparent leg injury. Redshirt first-year Nicco Marchiol entered the game to replace Greene for the Mountaineers. 

The redshirt first-year quarterback struggled on his first drive of the night. On second and 10, Marchiol found Mountaineer junior wide receiver EJ Horton open with room to run. But Marchiol could not hit his receiver in stride, causing Horton to ultimately drop the pass. Later in the drive, Mountaineers opted to attempt a fourth down conversion, but Marchiol once again could not hit his target. 

Pitt’s offense stalled out on the final drive of the quarter but retained the 3-0 lead heading into the second quarter. 

Thanks to a well-placed punt by Mountaineer sophomore Oliver Straw, the Panthers began their second half pinned in their own end zone. Fearing giving up a safety, the Panthers struggled to get out of their own endzone and were forced to punt on their first drive of the second quarter. 

With the game locked in a low-scoring slugfest, both teams leaned on their defense to help turn the tides. The Panthers defense struck first. With the Mountaineers threatening to score, redshirt senior defensive lineman Bam Brima came up big for the Panthers, recovering a fumble to halt the West Virginia drive.

But then the Mountaineers struck back with a massive play of their own. 

After the fumble recovery, Jurkovec tried to force a pass to redshirt junior receiver Konata Mumpfield on second and ten. But Mountaineer junior safety Aubrey Burks picked off the pass and battled through the Panther offense to the 17-yard line.

Following the interception, West Virginia found itself in prime position to score. The Mountaineers ultimately capitalized on the opportunity, as Marchiol connected with junior tight end Kole Taylor for an eight-yard touchdown. Marchiol and Taylor’s efforts gave the Mountaineers a 7-3 lead with four minutes remaining in the half. 

But the Panthers weren’t about to let the touchdown crush their spirits. Pitt’s offense drove down the field with only a few minutes remaining in the half. The drive ultimately fell flat in the red zone, but Panther redshirt junior kicker Ben Sauls connected on a 36-yard field goal to cut into the Mountaineer lead.

The Panthers entered the locker room at halftime down 7-6. 

Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor

Pitt fielded the ball to start the second half looking to make an early statement. But the Mountaineers weren’t about to let that happen. On third and one, West Virginia defensive lineman Mike Lockhart came in clutch for the Mountaineers, tackling Hammond for a loss of two to stymie the Panthers’ first drive out of the locker room. 

Then the Mountaineers delivered back-to-back daggers. With 13 minutes remaining in the third quarter, West Virginia drove downfield, utilizing short rushes to punish the Panthers’ defense. Donaldson shined on the drive, racking up 47 yards for the Mountaineers. The sophomore running back finished off the drive himself, pushing through Pitt defenders to earn the one-yard touchdown. Donaldson’s efforts gave the Mountaineers a 14-6 lead with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.

Down by eight points in the third quarter, the Panthers needed to make something happen before the game slipped away from them. But Jurkovec folded under the pressure, throwing his second pick of the night. Redshirt senior cornerback Beanie Bishop intercepted the pass for the Mountaineers and ran the ball back to the Pitt 32-yard line. 

West Virginia’s offense stalled out following the interception, but the field position was enough to put it in field goal range. Mountaineer redshirt junior kicker Micael Hayes capped off the drive for West Virginia, hitting a 42-yard field goal to give his team a 17-6 lead. 

With the game slipping out of reach, the Panthers continued to flounder. Pitt started the fourth quarter with the ball, but its drive quickly petered out. The Panthers were forced to punt for the fourth time in the game. 

Once again, with just under six minutes in the game, the Panthers fell flat offensively. Pitt drove down the field, making a few solid plays along the way. But on fourth down, the Panthers stalled on a quarterback sneak, as Jurkovec failed to push hard enough to pick up the first down. 

The Mountaineers then cruised for the rest of the game and walked away with a 17-6 win. Pitt will look to rebound next week against No. 20 North Carolina.

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor