Mountaineers Brawl their way to 17-6 victory over Pitt The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast

West Virginia's win in the Backyard Brawl wasn't exactly pretty, but it was definitely gritty. It was that grit that led to a 17-6 victory over the Panthers in the first showdown between the two teams in Morgantown since 2011. 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A lengthy 4,313 days had passed since West Virginia last defeated Pitt on the gridiron.

With the Backyard Brawl series taking a 10-season hiatus, and then the Mountaineers falling by seven points last year in Pittsburgh, Saturday night’s victory had been a long time coming.

Many of the players on the field were in middle school or below the last time the Mountaineers came out on top in the battle for I-79 supremacy. You wouldn’t have known that if you were at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“It was really exciting. The fans were great,” said redshirt senior cornerback Beanie Bishop Jr. “[We] had a lot of jawing back and forth, gotten into it with a couple of guys. You know, you can just feel it.”

Bishop, a native of Kentucky and former Minnesota Golden Gopher, got his first taste of the Backyard Brawl on Saturday. And what an introduction he had. Bishop tied a season-high with seven total tackles, hauled in an interception for the second consecutive game, and returned it 40 yards to the Pitt 30-yard line.

His field-flipping return punctuated one of six non-scoring drives to end the game for the Panthers, and brought the sellout crowd of 61,006 spectators to its feet.

Four minutes and three seconds of game time later, Bishop and all the other players got to witness Mountaineer fans singing their rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

“Coming out on top was a great feeling for us, and for this state,” said fellow veteran defensive back Aubrey Burks.

Burks was on the receiving end of the first of three interceptions Phil Jurkovec threw. He ran it back 26 yards, setting up a West Virginia touchdown on the next play. Burks has now recorded eight tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and an interception in two games against the Panthers.

“We took it personal, last year. We didn’t come out on top, and we had a bunch of West Virginia people there, and this year, we just wanted to give them something to be proud about,” Burks said.

Players and coaches learned much about the history of the Backyard Brawl in the week leading up to the contest. One thing is clear: everyone on the Country-Roads-uniform-clad sideline knew how important it was to bring Backyard Brawl bragging rights back to Morgantown.

“I said this to our team, and I made a point of this, it had been since November 25, 2011, since the state of West Virginia and our fan base had experienced a win, and been able to celebrate a win, over Pittsburgh on the gridiron. Our state needed this, our university needed this, our football progam needed this. So, this is a huge win on a bunch of different levels, and that’s not lost on us.”

WVU head coach Neal Brown

Running back CJ Donaldson entered an elite group of West Virginia players with his performance against the Panthers. By rushing for 102 yards, he became the first Mountaineer to gain 100 or more yards on the ground in back-to-back playings of the Backyard Brawl since Pat White and Steve Slaton accomplished the feat in 2005-06.

Donaldson’s short-yardage touchdown run in the third quarter extended the lead and further engrained the Miami, Florida native into the series lore.

“I’ve been watching West Virginia since I was probably in the sixth grade, and I didn’t even know this was a big rivalry until I got here. You know, the knowledge that guys like Nicco, who was an early enrollee, taught me,” said Donaldson. “All the little knowledge and stuff going on with the rivalry game. It definitely is so amazing knowing that we are the team who beat Pitt in the 2023 year, and we haven’t beaten them since 2011. It’s definitely so special knowing that we did that tonight.”

Nicco Marchiol became a part of the Backyard Brawl’s history in a much different way, after entering the game in place of the injured Garrett Greene in the first quarter. Marchiol became the fifth first- or second-year player since 1994 to quarterback WVU to a win over Pitt, joining the likes of Chad Johnston, Rasheed Marshall, Pat White, and Geno Smith.

His 60 passing yards are also the fewest by a winning quarterback in the series since Pitt’s Pat Bostick tossed for just 67 yards in 2007.

“I’ve become pretty accustomed to the rivalry here, and understand it pretty well,” said Marchiol. “It means a lot to people around here, and [it’s] such an honor to be able to go out there and win that one for the state of West Virginia, because they came out and supported us for four quarters and had our backs the entire time.”

Like the aforementioned WVU greats, Marchiol had the honor of kneeling the ball as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter. While it was undoubtedly a surreal moment for many in the crowd and throughout Milan Puskar Stadium, those two kneel-downs at the end was a moment Marchiol will never forget.

“That’s when I was really just looking around and realizing what had just been accomplished. You know, not beating them since 2011, that’s something we talked about all week. It’s something you can visualize, taking that knee at the very end. But to do it, myself out there in real-time, it felt like a dream. It was awesome to be out there with my guys.”