Late TD lifts Panthers

Nov. 25, 2004

AP Sports Writer

Gametracker Final Statistics

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tyler Palko, frustrated nearly all night by West Virginia's defense, completed four third-down passes on Pittsburgh's only sustained drive before scoring from the 2 late in the game to lead a 16-13 upset Thursday of the No. 21 Mountaineers.

Until Palko turned Darrelle Revis' interception of Rasheed Marshall's pass into Pitt's only touchdown, the sophomore quarterback had followed up a five-touchdown effort against Notre Dame with a miserable game. He finished 14-of-38 for 165 yards and an interception.

But Palko was near perfect on the deciding 73-yard drive, hitting top receiver Greg Lee three times for 38 yards on third-down passes and tight end Erik Gill on a fourth. A pass-interference penalty on linebacker Adam Lehnortt in the end zone against Lee gave Pitt a first down at the West Virginia 2, and Palko scored on a rollout with 4:06 remaining to give Pitt its first lead.

Until then, the Pittsburgh-raised Marshall had outplayed a Pitt quarterback for the third straight season by directing a virtual one-man offense depleted by the suspension of top receiver Chris Henry and an injury to top rusher Kay-Jay Harris. Harris was held to 11 yards on three carries.

No doubt it will be a tough loss to West Virginia to accept, especially since Lee appeared to trap the ball on one of his third-down catches.

Pitt's first victory over its biggest rival since 2001 effectively assured the Panthers (7-3, 4-2 in Big East) of a bowl bid - possibly to the Gator - and muddied West Virginia's bowl plans. The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2), losing their second straight amid more special teams mistakes, now might settle for the Insight Bowl after being the front-runner for the Big East's guaranteed BCS bowl bid before its 36-17 upset loss to Boston College two weeks ago.

Until Palko finally found his game again in the fourth quarter, it was yet another disappointing effort for Pitt in the East's second most-played major college rivalry to Army-Navy. The Panthers lost to Marshall-led West Virginia the previous two seasons despite being the higher-ranked team in both games.

Until their decisive drive, the Panthers managed only three Josh Cummings field goals despite repeated scoring opportunities and Tim Murphy's 106 yards rushing.

The 97th edition of the rivalry known as the Backyard Brawl was exactly that - a physical, tightly played game filled with more big plays by the defenses than the offenses and mistakes aplenty by both teams.

West Virginia's special teams were dreadful again, just as they were in allowing two punt return touchdowns against Boston College. Brad Cooper missed two of four field goal tries before freshman Andy Good kicked a 31-yarder in the third quarter on his first attempt of the season, punter Phil Brady averaged only 29.3 yards on four punts and the Mountaineers twice drew penalties for running into Pitt punter Adam Graessle.

Even after all that, the Mountaineers still had a chance to win it until Marshall - who ran for 104 yards and passed for 145 more - threw incomplete on fourth and 6 from the Pitt 33 with 42 seconds remaining. The play before, wide receiver Abraham Jones just missed completing a flea flicker pass into the end zone to Marshall that H.B. Blades may have tipped.

Pitt won its fifth in five games for coach Walt Harris, whose 24-12 record over the last three seasons is the best by a Pitt coach over a three-year span since Jackie Sherrill went 33-3 from 1979-81.