Before all of that. Pitt was having its way at times. The Panthers took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter through equal parts offensive efficiency and West Virginia time and again shooting itself in the foot. Once it was a penalty that nullified a missed Pitt field goal and then it was another of the Mountaineers' season-long special teams atrocities, the shanked punt.
The first score was a 1-yard run by Zach Brown that came four plays after nose guard Jorge Wight was whistled for an illegal block, presumably for cutting an offensive lineman in order to clear space for defenders rushing and jumping from behind Wright. Wright was also called for an offsides violation when Pitt faced fourth-and-1 near the goal line. It didn't give the Panthers a first down, but made the distance shorter and Pitt converted one play before the touchdown.
The second score was a 6-yard run by Isaac Bennett at the end of just a 52-yard drive. That was set up when Molinari shanked a 22-yard punt out of bounds, at least the fifth shank of the season by either Molinari or Smith. Again, though, Pitt took advantage, driving those 52 yards in five easy plays.
West Virginia appeared to change the momentum completely about five minutes into the second quarter after, of all things, a punt. Smith replaced Molinari for the first time since the LSU game and immediately boomed 57- and 50-yard kicks in his first two attempts.
The defense picked up on the momentum shift and began shutting Pitt down and WVU got one of the scores back when Geno Smith hit Bailey on a 63-yard touchdown. Bailey caught the pass on a skinny post pattern, stiff-armed safety Jarred Holley in the middle of the field and reversed field to score and make it 14-7.
But then it was another punt, this one by Pitt, that changed things again. Austin called for a fair catch on a punt and couldn't get to the short kick. It bounced sideways and into WVU's Ishmael Banks, creating a live ball. Pitt's Andrew Taglianetti fell on it at the WVU 33 and Pitt got a 30-yard Harper field goal out of its to go up 17-7.
WVU had a chance at the end of the half to perhaps get into field goal position after Darwin Cook intercepted a Sunseri pass and ran it back to the Pitt 47, but Geno Smith was sacked two straight times and the clock ran out.
Pitt took advantage of yet another WVU special teams error to add a field goal early in the third quarter. Tavon Austin dropped a punt at his own 16, Shane Gordon fell on it and four plays later Harper kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 20-7.
But the Mountaineers got that back and more quickly. On the next possession - which began with Pitt kicking the ball out of bounds and setting WVU up at the 40 - Alston scored from the 8 to make it 20-14 with 8:59 to play in the third quarter.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.