clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

RANKING: Top 5 Backyard Brawls

Here are my Top 5 All Time Backyard Brawls

Pittsburgh v West Virginia Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

With 104 games having been played between the two schools, narrowing down a top 5 is a tough ordeal, but someone has to do it, and that someone is me. I consulted experts, (i.e., I asked some friends and did a google search), read the history (found an online article) and researched old videos (youtube) to come up with this list. If you’re a Panther fan, you won’t like this and tough noogies. If you are a WVU fan, you probably have a game that I left off. That’s ok, let me know in the comments!

#5. 2011 - Tino Sunseri SACKED 10 times

The last time the two teams met, West Virginia held a tenuous 21-20 lead with 1:40 left and Pitt had the ball on their own 34 yard line. Pitt hadn’t passed the ball extremely well but Sunseri would finish the year with over 2,600 yards passing so he was a dangerous foe with the ball in his hands.

The first play of the drive Sunseri dropped back and was immediately met by Julian Miller who dropped him for a 2-yard loss. 2nd and 12. The next play Sunseri threw incomplete. 3rd and 12. An 11-yard pass made it 4th and 1. Sunseri ran a QB sneak and picked up a first down, but those four plays took nearly a minute off the clock. What started with 1:40 was now down to just 0:56 seconds and the Panthers had gone all of 10 yards.

The next play Sunseri was pressured and then flagged for intentional grounding. The next two plays ended the game as Najee Goode sacked Sunseri and then BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUCEE Irvin and Julian Miller played “meet at the quarterback” where they caused a fumble that ended the game. The 21-20 victory was typical of the low-scoring, slugfest that this rivalry has produced and this one was another one.

It can’t be forgotten one of the most memorable plays to come out of a Brawl when Steadman Bailey caught a post pass and STIFF ARMED a Pitt DB before racing in for a touchdown.

#4. 2006 - Pat White Goes 200 / 200 & Slaton goes 200 / 100

In one of the most historical statistical games, sophomore Pat White and Steve Slaton had a dominating game where White rushed for 220 yards, Steve Slaton rushed for 215 yards, White threw for 204 yards and Slaton caught 6 passes for 130 yards. White went 200 / 200 and Slaton went 200 / 100 in the same game!

White was extremely efficient passing, completing 11 passes in 16 attempts for over 12 yards per attempt. He finished the game with a 97.3 QBR (100 is a perfect game).

As a runner, White carried the ball 22 times for 220 yards, a first down every run, while his teammate Slaton carried 23 times for 215 yards. The game was close in the first half before the Mountaineers held the Panthers scoreless and turned on the afterburners.

Pittsburgh (6-5, 2-4) led 27-24 at the half before being overwhelmed by West Virginia’s playmaking speed in a scoreless second half in which the Mountaineers had 371 of their 438 yards rushing. West Virginia finished with a 641-295 edge in total yardage, outgaining Pitt 373-30 in the second half.

#3. 1975 - McKenzie’s Last Second FG Wins It

In a discreet plan dubbed “The Deal” by then-defensive coordinator Chuck Klausing, West Virginia’s staff went into Pitt’s own house, stole their signals, then used them in a 17-14 upset that ranks among the greatest of wins in school history.

It was 1975. Rubik’s cubes, pet rocks, bell bottoms and leisure suits abound. The Captain was still with Tennille, and Jaws and Saturday Night Live made their premieres. Antion, then a graduate assistant with head coach Bobby Bowden’s Mountaineers, was in charge of the advance scouting, meaning he worked one game ahead. Antion’s brother, Tom, was a backup offensive lineman on a team which had gone into Berkeley and beaten Cal 28-10 and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to dash SMU 28-22 in a 4-0 start.

“Watch the signals,” Antion recalls him saying. “He referred to the whole thing as ‘The Deal.’ Everything back then was shot with an over-the-shoulder 16mm. How in the world he got a field pass — on the field — for Tommy I’m not sure.”

Pitt was among the few teams in the nation signaling plays in the mid-70s; instead, most ran them in with the change of personnel. The Panthers had just one coach, offensive coordinator George Haffner, signaling, so the focus was easy. While Tommy Klausing recorded the action, including the signals, Antion was in the booth filling in all the columns for his scouting report, including an open one.

“I left a few spaces for me to draw stick figures (of the signals),” Antion said. “I drew them with the signals the offensive coordinator was giving. Tommy would film the signals and the scoreboard, so we’d know when in the game it was. Between the film and the scoreboard, we could document my notes with down and distance and other details, and have the signals and the stick figure drawings line up.

“The greatest high was that ‘75 game, when we beat Pitt on that last-second kick by Bill McKenzie,” said Bowden, who even to this day can recall such intricate details as the student managers which served decades ago. “The worst was the 1970 game at Pitt. We were ahead 35-8 and Pitt had no intention of trying to win. They just started running it, trying to keep us from running up the score, and started going for every fourth down. They were bigger, and they started making it and I sat on the ball. I’ll never do that again. That was the last time I sat on the ball. People accused us of running up the scores at Florida State. Well, I always coached from then on.”

Including using a bit of extra help from Antion and Klausing.

“Anything that’s part of one of the five greatest wins in school history is kinda special,” Antion said. “The inscription on the inside of my ring from the Peach Bowl says ‘Sign Stealer.’ When I die, my kids will have something to remember that. I still wear that ring most every day.”

#2. 1983 - Hostetler Wins Nehlen’s First Brawl With 90-Yard Drive

The 1975 win for the Mountaineers would be the last time the Mountaineers would beat Pitt until the 1983 season when Jeff Hostetler drove the team 90 yards in the final moments of the game to win the Brawl. It would also be the first time legendary Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen would win the Brawl.

The underdog Mountaineers sat on top through three quarters of play before Pitt took a late 16-13 lead [in the 1982 Brawl]. West Virginia put together an unlikely chance to tie the game, but kicker Paul Woodside’s 52-yard kick clanked off of the crossbar, sending the Mountaineers home empty for the seventh consecutive season. Still, a newly rebuilt West Virginia program went 12 rounds with one of the best teams in the nation.

“A lot of those mental barriers were taken down. I think they were torn down,” Hostetler said. “We went 9-3, and we had one of the best teams on the ropes and should have beat them. We let them get away with it right there at the very end.

“That never left us.”

West Virginia and Hostetler found themselves in a similar situation one year later, this time at home in Morgantown. The Mountaineers held the ball with just over 12 minutes left in the 1983 Backyard Brawl, facing a 21-17 deficit, 90 yards of field to cover and the No. 1 rush defense in the country, one that hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all year.

Hostetler remembers walking into the huddle with “no doubt” they were going down to score. After seven years of losses to Pitt, the West Virginia program as a whole had taken on a new mentality, tired of being pushed around. As such, the Mountaineers ran the ball 13 times on a 14-play, six-minute scoring drive.

Hostetler capped the series by waltzing into the end zone untouched on a quarterback bootleg near the goal line. West Virginia punched Pitt right in the mouth — a “prove it” moment in the Backyard Brawl if there ever was one.

#1. 1994 - The Mother Loving Backyard Brawl

88 points. Over 900 yards of offense. A 31-6 deficit turned into a 41-40 lead for the Panthers before the Mountaineers used another come-from-behind touchdown to win 47-41.

Only twenty-four seconds remained on the clock, and WVU was down a point to the one-win Panthers; the line of scrimmage was the Mountaineers’ 40-yard line; number 47, Wheeling native Zach Abraham, was one of four wide receivers on the field and was lined up on the right side; quarterback Chad Johnston was behind center.

It was the 100th anniversary of this storied rivalry between WVU and Pittsburgh, and it was a game that included a pick-6, a fumble returned for a touchdown, a blocked punt, and three blocked field goals, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Panthers, down 31-6 at one point, had rallied to take a 41-40 lead. It was third down with 10 yards to cover for at least a first down.

And that’s when a national television audience heard the play-by-play broadcaster exclaim, “He’s got it! He’s got it! TOUCHDOWN WEST VIRGINIA!”