West Virginia overcame three turnovers and poor special teams play to defeat Pittsburgh 21-20 Friday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
A crowd of 60,932 witnessed the 104th edition of the Backyard Brawl.
The West Virginia defense recorded 10 sacks, including four from senior defensive tackle Julian Miller.
"After we dropped that game to Louisville, the theme's been just play with as much energy as you possibly can muster," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. "When bad things don't go exactly the way you want them to go, you don't need to give up."
"Give our coaches and players a tremendous amount of credit for buying into that."
Pittsburgh was able to strike first. After multiple penalties on the West Virginia defense, Pittsburgh senior running back Zach Brown scored from one yard out, to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
Sloppy play by both offenses ensued. However, following a 22-yard punt by West Virginia punter Michael Molinari, Pittsburgh was able to capitalize on generous field position. Panthers' freshman running back Isaac Bennett finished the drive with a six-yard rushing touchdown, and Pittsburgh led 14-0 late in the first quarter.
West Virginia junior quarterback Geno Smith finally got the home crowd into the game midway through the second quarter. Smith found a streaking Stedman Bailey for a 63-yard touchdown reception. West Virginia trailed 14-7 with less than eight minutes until halftime.
"We didn't quit," Holgorsen said. "There were some things we had happen offensively and we could have quit, but didn't."
The Mountaineers had grabbed all the momentum, but a Pittsburgh punt hit a West Virginia player and was recovered by the Panthers. Junior kicker Kevin Harper nailed a 30-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 17-7 advantage at halftime.
"That first half, they were throwing everything at us," Geno Smith said. "We got back into the locker room, regrouped and made some adjustments."
At halftime, Pittsburgh had 129 rushing yards to -2 for West Virginia. Also, the Mountaineers were 0-6 on third downs.
The West Virginia defense forced a punt to begin the second half, but once again, the Mountaineers' special teams muffed a punt. Tavon Austin dropped the punt and Pittsburgh added another field goal. The Panthers led 20-7.
On arguably its most important drive of the game, West Virginia drove 60 yards in two minutes. Junior running back Shawne Alston scored from eight yards out, and the Mountaineers had cut the deficit to 20-14 with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Corey Smith replaced Michael Molinari as punter. Smith had an immediate impact after entering the game. He was able to pin the Panthers at their own 2-yard line late in the third quarter.
"I knew I hit it well," Smith said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to (long snapper) Cody Nutter for giving me a good snap, then a lot of credit to cover guys for getting down there and making the tackle."
But, West Virginia was unable to capitalize on Smith's punt, and Pittsburgh led 20-14 at the end of the third quarter.
Turnovers were the story throughout the game for the Mountaineers. West Virginia drove into Pittsburgh territory, before a fumble by inside receiver Tyler Urban gave the ball back to the Panthers.
But the West Virginia defense held strong.
"They (the defense) did a tremendous job, especially after turnovers, going right back out after they'd stopped them and holding them to field goals," Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers got the ball back and drove 83 yards on 11 plays. Shawne Alston rushed for his second rushing touchdown of the night, and West Virginia had its first lead of the game, 21-20.
A late drive by Pittsburgh fell short, and West Virginia won 21-20.
Dana Holgorsen enjoyed his first Backyard Brawl.
"It was pretty fun, I don't have a voice," he said. "It was loud, rowdy and fun. I had a tremendous time, the locker room was special. This is one they'll remember."
Multiple single-season records were set during the game. Geno Smith set records for pass attempts, passing yards and pass completions in a season, while wide receiver Stedman Bailey set the single-season mark for receiving yards.
Tavon Austin also set the record for receptions in a season.