McCoy, defense punish West Virginia

By Zack Chakan

Three days before a matchup with Pitt’s most hated rival, Pitt running back LeSean McCoy… Three days before a matchup with Pitt’s most hated rival, Pitt running back LeSean McCoy announced his plan to return to the Panthers for his junior year in 2009. Then, on Friday during the 101st Backyard Brawl, McCoy made a statement of another kind, showing why he is viewed as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick. McCoy ran for a career-high 183 yards and added two touchdowns to lead the Panthers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) from an eight-point deficit with just more than eight minutes left in the game to a 19-15 victory over West Virginia at Heinz Field. It was Pitt’s second win in as many years against West Virginia, which was still in the hunt for a Big East championship. But McCoy and Pitt, which knocked the Mountaineers from a spot in a BCS title game last year, smashed its Big East dreams on Friday. McCoy ran for a 1-yard touchdown ‘- his second of the day ‘- with 52 seconds left to complete the comeback. On the winning drive, McCoy ran nine out of Pitt’s 10 plays, totaling 55 yards. The sophomore now has 1,308 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns on the season. His 35 total touchdowns break Larry Fitzgerald’s record for most scores by a Pitt player in their freshman and sophomore seasons. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he knew how key McCoy would be against West Virginia. ‘Great players make great plays in big games,’ said Wannstedt. ‘I think that was the difference in the game, particularly when we were struggling throwing the ball. Our only chance to win was to play defense and run the ball. We were able to do that.’ West Virginia drove down the field in the last minute, but its drive ended when Mountaineers’ quarterback Pat White threw an incomplete pass to Wes Lyons past the end zone as time ran out. Pitt quarterback Bill Stull was 12-of-23 for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He admitted that Saturday wasn’t one of his best days. ‘That’s why it’s a team game,’ said Stull. ‘It just so happened we ran the ball every time that last series. Our guys up front and on the defense won the game for us.’ White ran for 93 yards and a touchdown while adding 143 yards through the air. Running back Noel Devine ran for only 17 yards on 12 carries. Pitt scored on its opening drive for the second straight game, when Stull found senior receiver Derek Kinder for a 30-yard touchdown. It was Kinder’s first touchdown since Pitt’s opening-day loss to Bowling Green. But just like last week’s loss to Cincinnati, the Panthers didn’t score again until the fourth quarter. ‘We need to find a way to keep doing the things that we do on the first series of games,’ said Stull. ‘If we do that, we might get darn close to a perfect game.’ The Panthers drove inside the Mountaineers’ 5-yard line with time running down in the first half. But on second-and-goal, Stull lobbed a pass toward the corner of the end zone that was underthrown and intercepted by Quinton Andrews. Pitt’s defense held White, college football’s all-time leading rusher as a quarterback, in check until midway through the third quarter. Trailing 7-6, White used his athleticism to break a 54-yard touchdown run with 6:05 left in the third quarter. The snap on the extra point was bobbled, and Pitt fell behind by five. Pat McAfee then connected on a 40-yard field goal, his third of the game, to give the Mountaineers a 15-7 advantage with 11:53 remaining in the contest. Jovani Chappel intercepted a White pass after Pitt was forced to punt, and McCoy ran for a 5-yard score two plays later. Pitt went for two to tie the game, but a Jason Pinkston false start penalty pushed the Panthers back five yards. A quarterback draw failed, and Pitt remained down 15-13. The Pitt defense held again on the next drive, leading up to the winning possession that carried toward the core of the Pitt fan base. ‘It was great for us to score going toward our student section at the end,’ said Wannstedt. ‘Our home crowd definitely played a part in keeping our players into the game and giving us an advantage, particularly down the stretch.’ Pitt plays Connecticut next Saturday in a game that determines Pitt’s bowl slot. A chance remains that the Panthers could play in a New Year’s Day bowl, the Gator Bowl, or perhaps the Sun Bowl a day earlier.