Eric Wassell’s article about the lead up to 13-9 generated quite a lot of buzz. I was going to wait until next week to publish part II, but instead I decided to keep the momentum going.
Also note that there are many articles about this topic and Eric has pulled quotes from a lot of them. He has also pulled some quotes from what is considered the definitive work on this topic, Chris Peak’s “13-9, The Story of a Game, a Season and a Team that Never Quit”, which can be purchased here.
PART II, 2007 BACKYARD BRAWL : “IT WAS JUST A NIGHTMARE”
Did Pitt have a chance? Obviously the team and the coaches believed. Beyond that, maybe about two Pitt fans.
“Not a chance. Not even if WVU turns the ball over 6 times and
Pitt Dresses Dan Marino in Pat Bostick’s uniform”
Rich Walsh of WPXI TV, answering the question of whether Pitt had any chance to win, when asked by Post-Gazette Pitt Football Beat Writer Paul Zeise in the press box prior to the game.
Unlike most away games, which typically involve flights, Pitt headed to Morgantown on a bus on the afternoon of December 1, 2007. Typically Pitt stays in a hotel near Washington, PA, which is roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and the WVU campus. So the trip to Morgantown was a brief one, yet not uneventful. As one might expect, the Pitt buses were not greeted warmly upon their arrival in Morgantown. Accounts differ about what was being thrown at the Pitt team buses, but all involved have reported over the years that things were hostile.
“ We drove up, and people were throwing full cans of something at us.
I remember Shady McCoy ducking down because he thought it was
coming through his window.”
Pitt Special Teams Coordinator, Charlie Partridge, remembering the circumstances of the team’s arrival in Morgantown on the day of the game.
West Virginia had everything to play for in the game. At stake for them was a berth in the BCS Championship game. With a victory over Pitt, they would have secured that berth and gone on to play a beatable Ohio State team for the right to claim ownership of the school’s first National Championship. While Rich Rodriguez has since been quoted as saying his team was focused and had a great week of preparation. Pitt players and coaches observed something different in pre-game warmups.
“I swear West Virginia didn’t warm up for that game. They were just dancing around. It’s like everyone was already celebrating because they were going to the National Championship.”
Pitt Kicker Conor Lee, on observing the disinterest of the WVU players in pregame warmups
Things didn’t start out very well for the Panthers. A 12 yard run by LeSean McCoy on the first play from scrimmage set Pitt up with a first down near midfield. On the very next play, Pat Bostick underthrew a pass down the right sideline, which was easily intercepted by WVU defensive back Antonio Lewis, who returned it to the Pitt 27. Bostick made was a bad decision to throw it and also a made a poor throw. After this early mistake, it became clear that Dave Wannstedt and Offensive Coordinator Matt Cavanaugh did not have any confidence in Bostick or the passing game. The remainder of the half would become a steady dose of McCoy and Dave Brytus, the Pitt punter.
“I think we won almost despite my play…. I was just above the threshold of the QB losing the game, and I didn’t quite go past it”
Pitt Quarterback Pat Bostick, years later, assessing his performance in the 2007 Pitt-WVU game
One thing that allowed Pitt to be so conservative on offense, was the play of the Pitt Defense. After the Bostick interception, West Virginia moved the ball to the Pitt 6 yard line. However, on third down Jemeel Brady shed a block from Owen Schmitt and forced WVU QB Pat White out of bounds at the 2. WVU settled for a 20 yard Pat McAfee field goal attempt. Rich Rodriguez took an intentional delay of game penalty to better the angle of the kick for McAfee, but Wannstedt declined it. McAfee missed.
“He was more distraught than anybody after the game”
Pat McAfee’s father, Tim, on his son’s reaction to the WVU loss to Pitt
The misery of the Mountaineers was just getting started, as was the Pitt Defense.
On its next four offensive possessions, the Pitt offense went three and out. Very minimal efforts were being made to pass the football. At the end of the fifth drive, Bostick was 1-4 for zero yards and an interception. McCoy had yet to get on track. The offense had gained a total of 22 yards and one first down. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “We aren’t even going to try to score tonight”. Also, by that point in season 3 of Dave Wannstedt’s tenure as Pitt Head Coach, I had already started to question his coaching acumen. Nothing that was happening in this game was doing anything to change my opinion.
However, West Virginia was getting nothing from its punt return team, Pat McAfee missed another Field Goal (he had only missed two the entire season), and the defense recovered a fumble after a sack of Pat White. As would later be discussed as one of the keys to the victory, Pitt seemingly did not miss a tackle all night (Various reports would later reveal that Pitt actually missed only two or three). As it was, tacking was a primary focus of the defense in the week leading up to the game.
“Dave, if we don’t tackle these guys, its not going to make any difference what defense we run”
Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads to a concerned Dave Wannstedt, explaining why his pre-game preparation was focused on tackling drills and not on a game plan.
“We ran one and only one defense the whole second half. We had one adjustment based on where the running back lined up. I was thinking, ‘Are they ever going to pick up on
Pitt Linebacker Scott McKillop, our years later, discussing the basic defense that Pitt used to dominate the Mountaineers.
Pitt’s sixth possession of the game started with some promise. McCoy fought for a first down on third and short. Later in the drive on yet another third down, Matt Cavanaugh dialed up a slip screen that netted another first down. Shortly thereafter, Bostick would throw his second interception.
“ I was so dam mad.” “I said, ‘That’s it. I’ve seen enough. I don’t care if Shady carries the ball 50 times’.”
Dave Wannstedt, citing his reaction to the second Bostick interception, and his telling Matt Cavanaugh that he wanted to go exclusively to the Wildcat formation.
But Pitt had eaten up nearly 5 minutes of clock, and the interception occurred deep in WVU territory at the 26. With 7 minutes left in the second quarter, we remained tied with the second ranked team in the Country.
WVU finally got its offense on track during the ensuing drive and drove 74 yards for a touchdown. The drive was aided by a phantom call. On third and 12, Pitt stopped WVU, holding them to an apparent field goal attempt. However a weak personal foul penalty against Pitt Defensive lineman Tommy Duhart gave WVU new life. This would be the first of a few very questionable calls against Pitt on this evening. (Paul Zeise would later say that one of his most vivid images of the evening was seeing Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese after the game, “looking like he lost his dog”.)
More significant, during this drive, Pat White injured his thumb and left the game. He did not return until late in the fourth quarter. It remains a huge debate as to whether this impacted the outcome of the game. On one hand, White had been playing horribly up to that point and the Pitt defense arguably would have stopped Joe Montana that night. On the other hand, White was a Heisman Trophy candidate and the best player on arguably the best offense in the country.
White’s backup, Jarrett Brown, scored on a 6 yard rush to put WVU ahead with just over a minute thirty left in the first half. The WVU faithful were able to exhale for a brief moment. Little did they know that the WVU offense, averaging over 40 points per game, would not score another point for the remainder of the night.
Considering the poor play of Bostick, it was not surprising to see Pitt run the ball upon receiving the kickoff with just over a minute left in the half. They ran the ball three consecutive plays, seemingly content to reach halftime down only a touchdown. However, when McCoy was able to gain 18 yards on those three runs, Pitt was set up just shy of midfield with 26 seconds left.
I believe that the next play might in retrospect be considered one of the most important plays for Pitt football in the last 35 years. Pat Bostick completed an 8 yard pass to Oderick Turner, and a 15 yard personal foul penalty was called on West Virginia. Simply put, it was a bad call (stay tuned: the zebras would try to make up for it on a couple of occasions in the second half, perhaps after having a private conversation with Comissioner Tranghese, who desperately wanted to see WVU win). On the last play of the half, Conor Lee would kick a 48 yard field goal, his career long, to give the Panthers some momentum going into intermission.
“That was the biggest moment I’d kicked in. It was a great thing going into halftime too. I
remember people being pretty amped up.”
- Conor Lee on the impact of his field goal just before the half
“Halftime you make adjustments. We didn’t make any. We might have made minor ones, but obviously they weren’t the right ones.”
Owen Schmitt, former WVU fullback, on the adjustments made by the WVU coaching staff at halftime
The shift in momentum carried over to the Third Quarter. The first few minutes of the second half, combined with the field goal at the end of the half, proved to be the difference in the game. Lowell Robinson forced a WVU fumble on the second half kickoff, and Pitt recovered it near midfield.
Pitt continued its conservative play calling, and came up short on third down. Dave Brytus came on to punt on fourth and one. Except that in one of the few memorable and gutsy calls that this Pitt fan can recall during his tenure, Wannstedt dialed up a fake punt. The ball was snapped directly to Shane Murray, who carried it for a first down. After two more runs, Pitt faced a third and 9. Bostick completed a 17 yard pass to Oderick Turner which set Pitt up inside the 20.
“This crowd has gone completely silent”
ESPN game announcer Mike Patrick, after Oderick Turner’s 17 yard reception
After two more McCoy runs put the Panthers on the one yard line, Bostick punched it in with a quarterback sneak. Pitt took the lead 10-7 and the defense did the rest.
Continuously in the second half, the defense turned WVU’s high powered offense away. The next WVU drive was a three and out.
“The WVU fans are really getting nervous and upset”
Mike Patrick after the three and out by the WVU Offense
Pitt kept its offensive momentum going on its next drive. Starting at its own 36, the running of McCoy, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Conredge Collins combined to move Pitt down the field. ESPN color analyst Todd Blackledge noted late in the drive that Pitt had run 21 plays in the third quarter, while WVU had run only 3. Pitt moved the ball inside the 20 and on 3rd and 5 from the 14. McCoy ran it in for the Touchdown. Unfortunately for Pitt, the fix was in and a phantom holding penalty was called on Oderick Turner. The Touchdown was taken off the board and thereafter Conor Lee missed a 35 yard field goal.
Regardless, Pitt had sent its message, and was in control of the game as the third quarter came to a close.
The offense of WVU continued to sputter in the fourth quarter, as backup Jarrett Brown remained in the game. A punt on one possession was followed by a fumble on the next, the latter being recovered by Pitt Defensive Tackle Tommie Duhart at the West Virginia 17 yard line. The Pitt defense just continued to dominate.
“There is a sense of doom in this stadium, and rightfully so”
– Mike Patrick following the Duhart sack and fumble recovery
The Pitt offense moved the ball to the one yard line following the fumble, but could not punch it in. Dave Wannstedt elected to kick the 18 yard field goal (Cue Ike here: “Narduzzi was roasted for doing the same thing against Penn State last year”. Big difference in the situations though, Ikester). The lead was now 13-7, with just over 6 minutes remaining.
Despite mostly everything going Pitt’s way, a touchdown by WVU would put them in the lead. The next Mountaineer drive got a huge boost when Noel Devine returned the kickoff 47 yards to set WVU up at the Pitt 32. At this point, Pat White returned to the game. While it appeared that he was in quite a bit of discomfort on the sideline, one of his teammates would question his toughness years later.
“I’ll say this. If he wanted to fuking play, he would have played.. It was for the national championship…Quite honestly, you’d have to rip my fucking head off and take my heart out of my chest”
Owen Schmitt, questioning the toughness and heart of WVU quarterback Pat White, who reportedly had dislocated his thumb in the first half
On the first three plays of the drive, the WVU offense netted seven yards, bringing up a fourth and 3. Once again, McKillop was up to the task and dropped Slaton short of the first down, after White made the wrong decision to hand the ball off rather than keep it. Pitt got the ball back with just over 4 minutes left and looked to seal the victory.
And Pitt might have done so had it not been for the referees. After McCoy and Collins runs netted 6 yards on the first two plays of the possession, McCoy ran for 7 on third down which would have given Pitt a new set of downs. However, another phantom holding call on Turner negated the play. On the repeat of third down, a pass was directed at Turner, who was clearly held and/or interfered with. No call was made. Pitt was forced to punt. Mike Tranghese was smiling.
WVU had one final chance, and got the ball back with three minutes left. On the first two plays of the drive, WVU gained 32 yards and moved the ball to the Pitt 21. Two incompletions brought up a third and 10. White recovered his own fumble when trying to avoid the rush and lost 7. On 4th and 17, White threw incomplete, and the victory was sealed.
“This will be the biggest disappointment in WVU football history”
-Mike Patrick, stating the obvious after Pitt had sealed the win
All that was left to produce that iconic 13-9 final score was Dave Brytus running out of the end zone, giving WVU a safety on the final play of the game. Final: Pitt 13, WVU 9.
There could be a whole other article written on the impact this game had on college football. Does Rich Rodriguez leave for Michigan if he wins? Does Terrelle Pryor go to WVU instead of Ohio State? What about Les Miles and LSU? As Pitt fans, we didn’t and don’t care about any of that. We simply enjoy the knowledge that we prevented WVU, one of our two most bitter rivals, from winning the National Championship.
“ The worst football memory I’ve had is the Pitt game…It makes me want to throw up. I was so bad in calling that game. We made some mistakes we never made. I played it too close to the vest. There’s a lot of things I would do over. I try not to think about that as much. But I try to think of the good things as opposed to that one terrible night.”
Terrible is in the eye of the beholder, Rich.
And finally, my very favorite part of the game. Hail to Pitt!