Pitt rallies late to secure 38-31 win over West Virginia

Pitt survived soft running defense, a slowly developing ground game and six lead changes, but rallied to defeat West Virginia, 38-31, Thursday night in the 105th Backyard Brawl at Acrisure Stadium.

A crowd of 70,622 – an all-time high for a Pittsburgh sporting event of any variety – saw Pitt’s defense crumble before providing the decisive fourth quarter points.

The Panthers trailed 31-24 for about seven minutes of the final quarter before quarterback Kedon Slovis hit running back Izzy Abanikanda for a 24-yard touchdown to tie the score with 3 minutes and 41 seconds left. .

Then Aliquippa grad MJ Devonshire got a pass that deflected off the hands of WVU wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton and weaved 56 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 2:58 left. It was Pitt’s second late career interception from Devonshire. He had an overtime assist to help Pitt defeat North Carolina last season.

Pitt struggled to generate a running game until Rodney Hammond Jr. replaced Abanikanda, the starter who was out of the game early. Abanikanda had 15 yards on eight carries before coming back to spark the rally. Hammond scored twice, gaining a total of 74 yards on 16 tries.

Slovis threw for 308 yards, completing 16 of 24 attempts. Pitt gave up 205 rushing yards – 125 on seven carries by CJ Donaldson and 71 of 16 by Tony Mathis.

With the score tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter, the Panthers allowed rushes for 39 yards to Donaldson and 23 to Mathis, leading to quarterback JT Daniels’ 1-yard dive for the game-breaking score and a 31- 24.

Daniels completed 24 of 39 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.

After the score was tied 10-10 at halftime, Pitt failed to gain control early in the second half and found himself trailing.

After a three-and-out that included a sack from Slovis, Donaldson blocked rookie Sam Vander Haar’s punt and Hershey McLaurin returned it 14 yards to the 5-yard line. Donaldson completed the drive in the next game, giving WVU a 17-10 lead less than two minutes into the second half.

Pitt responded with fullback Daniel Carter’s one-yard dive into the end zone after Slovis connected with Jared Wayne on a 64-yard pass and run.

Hammond was next for a big gain in the air, catching a short turnaround from Slovis and sprinting 49 yards on 11. On the next play, Hammond dragged the West Virginia and Pitt players into the end zone for a lead of 24-17 Pitt with 3:42 left in the third quarter.

But nothing was easy for Pitt throughout the game, and the Mountaineers tied the score on Daniels’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Ford-Wheaton on the first play of the fourth quarter.

West Virginia scored the first touchdown of the game while Pitt’s ground game couldn’t find its needed rhythm.

After Donaldson’s 44-yard run to Pitt’s 10-yard line, Daniels hit Ford-Wheaton for the score with 12:45 left in the second quarter.

The touchdown wiped out Pitt’s 3-0 lead, created by second Ben Sauls’ 42-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

Training has started at the Panthers 3.

The field goal was the first attempt of Sauls’ college career after winning the job from starter Sam Scarton during training camp.

Pitt’s scoring was set up almost exclusively by Slovis, who completed his four attempts for 55 yards and scrambled for 14 on the drive.

An exchange of fumbles led to Pitt’s short-lived 10-7 lead.

First, Panthers wide receiver Bub Means lost a fumble after a 14-yard reception. The ball was picked up by Mountaineers linebacker Lee Kpogba at WVU 32.

Two plays later, Pitt free safety Erick Hallett recovered wide receiver Kaden Prather’s fumble at the WVU 35-yard line. The ball was thrown by cornerback Marquis Williams. Pitt needed six plays to take the lead on a 4-yard run from Hammond.

West Virginia responded with a 13-play, 74-yard possession that ended with Casey Legg’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.

Jerry DiPaola is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaola@triblive.com or through Twitter .

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