Backyard Brawl Revival; Panthers Victorious

By: Jacob Walsh

Only seventy-five miles separate the city of Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia. For over a century, the two cities’ schools have fought for dominance. The college football game known as the “Backyard Brawl” gets its name from the close proximity of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of West Virginia, each school being located in the other’s “backyard”.

The Pittsburgh Panthers and WVU Mountaineers have played this traditional matchup one hundred and five times, with Pitt leading the series 60-42-3. These neighboring schools met up for the first time in 1895 and played consistently up until 2011. The Brawl took a hiatus due to college football conference realignment. When the teams took a break both teams’ overall record finished almost even with Pitt winning 72 games and WVU winning 68. However, the Panthers prospered in the postseason, making an ACC championship appearance in 2018 and winning the ACC title in 2021. Both teams made multiple bowl game appearances, but WVU did not qualify for the Big 12 title game in the eleven-year span.

The revival of the Backyard Brawl came on a warm evening in Pittsburgh on September 1st, 2022. The newly renamed Acrisure Stadium on the North Shore hit its capacity for the match-up, holding 70,622 attendants in a 68,000 capacity. The revival broke the record for the largest attended Pittsburgh sporting event. Leading up to the game, it was falsely reported that WVU would have 75% of the total attendance. This report came to be false as it was said by a second-hand ticketing service and barely accounted for the total attendance. Panther fans filled the stadium in royal blue waves. ESPN’s famous College Gameday appeared at the anticipated rivalry, gaining large national attention. Lee Corso dawned the head of the Pitt Panther mascot when making his signature mascot pre-game prediction.

When both teams finally kicked off, both started slow. The Mountaineers received the ball first but were eventually halted by the Panthers. WVU could not convert on third down due to a false start and a fumble. Pitt could not get out of their own red zone on their first possession. After a sack on Pitt quarterback, Kedon Slovis, the team punted away. WVU then fell victim to another false start on their offense and punted back to Pitt. Once again in their own red zone, Slovis began to push the ball downfield. Pitt entered into Mountaineer territory, where the drive stalled.

The Panthers still came up with a 42-yard field goal from kicker Ben Sauls. End of 1st quarter: Pitt-3, WVU-0.

WVU woke up in the second quarter and crafted an offensive drive that led to the endzone. WVU QB J.T. Daniels threw a fade to receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton to put WVU up 7-3. Pitt running back Rodney Hammond answered back by taking his offense down the field himself. The Panther drive stalled after an almost intercepted pass and a punt pinned WVU inside their own 1. WVU got out of danger when a Pitt defender committed an unsportsmanlike penalty. The drive would still end in a punt. Hammond and the Panther offense got back on the field and moved further than the previous drive with seven carries. Hammond found the endzone to put Pitt up 10-7. The Mountaineers would not go into the half quietly, but the Panthers would not break either. In Pitt territory, WVU booted a field goal to end the half tied. End of 2nd Quarter: Pitt-10, WVU-10.

After receiving the ball at the start of the third, Pitt gained no traction. WVU would proceed to block a Panther punt and put themselves in scoring positions. The Mountaineers called on Donaldson a play later to punch it in for five yards and a score. Pitt and WVU proceeded to trade punts on the next two drives. The Panthers then moved quick striking on three plays to reach the endzone. Pitt receiver Jared Wayne popped off attempted tackles for 64 yards before running back Daniel Cater scored the touchdown. WVU went three and out and punted away, Pitt taking advantage scored on another three-play drive. Hammond once again put the offense on his back and scored on an 11-yard rush. WVU would get the ball back a drove into Pitt territory to end the third. End of 3rd Quarter: Pitt-24, WVU-17.

WVU started the 4th quarter by finishing their previous drive with another touchdown pass to Ford-Wheaton. Pitt would be forced to punt, and it was the Mountaineers’ turn to take advantage. WVU put together a confident drive with multiple breakoff plays. The drive ended with Daniels calling his own number to score on a QB sneak. Pittsburgh came up with no response as Slovis was sacked twice on a drive that ended with another punt. The Panthers’ defense held on to force WVU to punt back. Pitt’s luck turned even with Hammond getting targeted by a WVU defender and limping off the field. The Panthers still strived without the top back and QB Kedon Slovis led a passing attack downfield. Slovis reached Abanikanda on a 26-yard pass to tie the game.

WVU began the next drive trying to regain the lead. Daniels called on dominant receiver Ford-Wheaton to make a play downfield, but the pass bounced off hands and into the possession of Pitt defensive back MJ Devonshire. MJ proceeded to fly downfield through a slew of Pitt and WVU players to take the turnover in for a Pittsburgh score, putting the Panthers up 38-31. The Mountaineers were given one more chance to answer as J.T. Daniels led his team downfield. With their backs against the wall on a 4th-down play, Daniels threw to receiver Mike O’Laughlin at the 1-yard line. Within the reach of O’Laughlin’s hands, the ball hit the turf, as reviewed by the referees. WVU came up one play short of tying the game and Pitt got the ball back. Slovis kneeled out the victory as Acrisure Stadium erupted with the cheers of Pitt fans.

Pitt came up victorious in the revival of this massive college football rivalry, but it’s not over yet. Pittsburgh and West Virginia are slated to play each year through 2022-2025, and 2029-2032. The Backyard Brawl will live on in the years to come and a long-lasting college football rivalry is renewed.

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