Tyler Bitancurt Shows His Mettle to Knock Off the Pitt Panthers

Daniel Woods

The date is November 27, 2009. The location is Milan Puskar Stadium where the West Virginia Mountaineers will host the eternal rival that is the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first Backyard Brawl since the graduation of superstar quarterback Pat White.

Replacing White under center is the man who backed him up for three years, Jarrett Brown, a dual-threat senior who showed promise early in his career but could never overtake White. The Panthers are paced by a freshman sensation at running back in the diminutive Dion Lewis while getting steady play at quarterback from Bill Stull. Eighth-ranked Pitt is looking to stay ahead in the Big East race and lock up the BCS Bowl bid while the Mountaineers will try to play spoiler in this rivalry matchup.

The game began extremely slowly. The first quarter contained only five total drives and three of them resulted in negative yards. The only scoring opportunity was a Pittsburgh field goal attempt that Dan Hutchins missed from 46 yards. The Mountaineers sustained a long drive that killed the opening quarter but ended early in the second as Brown was sacked at the Pitt 11, turning the ball over on downs.

The Panthers went three and out for the second straight possession but the Mountaineers proceeded to lose the ball on downs once again on yet another sack. This turnover led to Pittsburgh’s first drive of over 50 yards. A key third-down conversion from Stull to Jonathan Baldwin took the ball inside the 35 while West Virginia had two chances to force turnovers as Robert Sands nearly picked off a pass at the goal line and Lewis put the ball on the turf a few plays later. A missed deep ball for Baldwin kept the Panthers out of the end zone and Hutchins came on, hitting from 37 to break the scoreless tie.

Starting off with just over three minutes remaining in the half, Brown needed to get the offense moving. He was unsuccessful, going three and out and giving Pitt a chance to build on its momentum heading into the locker room. The hurry-up came back to bite the Panthers as a hurried throw from Stull was intercepted by Keith Tandy and returned to the Pittsburgh 40. West Virginia still moved methodically, going just 37 yards in ten plays, but it was a scoring opportunity nonetheless. A false start on the one-yard line pushed the Mountaineers back, forcing freshman kicker Tyler Bitancurt to kick from 20 yards out. The young specialist was successful, tying the game at three and sending West Virginia into halftime with a positive.

Another Pittsburgh three and out started the half as the West Virginia defense continued to stymie the Panthers offense. A busted trick play inside Pitt’s 30-yard line slowed the Mountaineers and forced another kick from Bitancurt. From the right hash, the freshman snuck his 43-yard attempt inside the right upright and put West Virginia in front for the first time on the day. 

The Mountaineer defense nearly forced another three and out but Dion Lewis finally made a big play. Taking a toss to the left on fourth and one, the freshman hit the edge with a burst of speed and turned on the jets before being forced out of bounds at the West Virginia 20 yard line. Dave Wannstedt’s team was unable to finish the drive though as Stull’s pass was dropped on third down by Dorin Dickerson. Hutchins got his third chance and was successful for the second time, tying the game at six with a 30 yard boot.

With defense being so dominant in recent years of this series, one would not expect an explosive play this late, especially after a penalty on the kickoff moved West Virginia back to the 12-yard line. Noel Devine had other ideas. Taking a simple inside handoff which the running back burst through the line, breaking one tackle in the second level, and sprinted untouched through the secondary and crossed the goal line with no Panther within five yards.

Trailing by a touchdown, Pittsburgh struggled to move the ball outside of a 26-yard dash by Lewis. That jaunt took it to the West Virginia 30 yard line but the drive stalled there with Stull’s third-down heave coming up short. Hutchins reentered for a 53-yard attempt that took a late hook to the left, holding the lead at 13-6 going into the fourth quarter.

The Mountaineers went three and out to start the final frame and Pitt had another chance to tie the game. One dazzling run from Lewis was all that really benefited the Panthers on this drive before Stull was forced to go to the air on third and seven. He unleashed a high, lofty pass into double coverage that Sands climbed up the ladder for, putting the ball back in the hands of West Virginia.

The very next play saw the Mountaineers try to capitalize on the momentum with Brown throwing a dart on the run to Alric Arnett down to the Pittsburgh 26 yard line. A serious third and nine effort by Devine nearly kept the drive alive but he was forced out of bounds, bringing Bitancurt out for the third time. His kick was true from 39 yards away and West Virginia’s lead was extended to ten, 16-6.

Pittsburgh needed to do something offensively and do it fast. With the clock rolling under eight minutes, Stull dropped to pass deep in Mountaineer territory. He threw a near-perfect pass toward Baldwin in the end zone but Brandon Hogan made a perfect play to knock the ball away from the future Kansas City Chief and force yet another fourth down. The fifth kick of the day for Hutchins was a 36-yarder and he moved to 60 percent on the night with a make that cut the lead to one score.

An attempt by coach Bill Stewart to drain the clock would fail as Devine was dropped in the backfield on second down and Tyler Urban was stopped short of the sticks on third down. With about four minutes left, the Panthers had a long way to go and not a lot of time to do it. The very first play saw a quick strike to Baldwin move the ball out to the Pittsburgh 40. Another completion to Mike Shanahan gained the second first down in as many plays before Stull went downfield. Baldwin took off on a go route down the left sideline, beating Tandy and hauling in Stull’s throw at the goal line. He trotted in from there and Hutchins’ extra point tied the game at 16 with 2:54 left in the game.

Needing a spark on what was likely the final possession of regulation, a good return from Mark Rodgers took the ball to the West Virginia 32. A pair of designed runs for Brown picked up a first down and the Mountaineers were in rhythm moving the ball. A quick out route to Arnett took the ball into Pitt territory but back to back incompletions had West Virginia on the ropes. A long scramble by Brown nearly moved the chains but he was dropped just short, setting up fourth and one at the 36. Classic power football proved to keep the drive alive with Ryan Clarke bullying his way past the line to gain.

Two more runs drained the clock down to three seconds before Stewart used his last timeout to give his freshman kicker a chance to win the game. Set up on the left hash, Bitancurt took his approach on a 43-yard attempt. With ice in his veins, he booted the ball into the night sky, soaring through the air and splitting the uprights as time expired to give West Virginia the upset victory, 19-16.

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