Why the Pitt-West Virginia Yard Brawl is a university soccer rivalry not like another

DAVE WANNSTEDT NEEDED his group to do some learning.

The Pitt soccer coach was main the 4-7 Panthers into the 2007 version of the Yard Brawl towards No. 2 West Virginia in Morgantown as a 28.5-point underdog.

However he wasn’t involved with displaying his gamers blitzes or display screen passes. As a substitute, he confirmed them photos of the bus Pitt would trip into West Virginia and advised them tales of the group bus getting pelted with beer bottles and rocks on earlier journeys to Morgantown.

“I used to be simply making an attempt to inform our gamers, ‘We higher prepare for what we’re driving into right here. That is greater than only a faculty soccer recreation,'” Wannstedt stated.

Star operating again LeSean “Shady” McCoy was prepared.

“So we’re driving in on the bus, and it is quiet,” Wannstedt recalled. “And unexpectedly … Bang! Bang! Right here it comes. And Shady form of stands up and says, ‘Hey, Coach, identical to we noticed on the tape!’ after which the entire bus simply comes alive.”

Issues have been simply getting began. On the primary play of the sport — a 12-yard run from McCoy — West Virginia defensive finish Johnny Dingle and Pitt sort out Jeff Otah have been referred to as for private fouls after getting right into a scuffle after the whistle.

“Each these guys dropped their gloves and simply began wailing on one another, and the whistles have been blowing,” Wannstedt stated. “And I am standing on the sidelines, I ruptured my Achilles [a month earlier] and I am on crutches, laughing to myself.

“I stated, ‘Properly, these guys get it. We’re within the Yard Brawl.'”

TO UNDERSTAND THE ardour of the Yard Brawl, one should perceive the area and demographics wherein the age-old rivalry exists. The groups first met in 1895 however, largely due to convention realignment, the sport has been on maintain since 2011. It returns Thursday night time in Pittsburgh (7 ET, ESPN and ESPN App), and the depth that constructed up over 104 conferences (Pitt leads 61-40-3) cannot be erased by an 11-year pause.

West Virginia’s in-house historian, director of athletics content material John Antonik, provides a good, overhead description of the rivalry.

“The factor is, we’re all principally the identical folks,” he stated. “The folks in West Virginia are coal miners, and lots of the people who supported Pitt are metal staff. So you’ve got acquired the mills and the mines. So from that respect, it is comparable. However culturally, [Pitt] is an city campus, West Virginia’s a rural campus, regardless that we’re solely 75 miles away.

“You recognize, the best way it was portrayed to me from the folks in Pittsburgh, the Pitt folks all the time considered Penn State as the sport that they wished to win most. West Virginia was the sport they did not need to lose. There is a massive distinction there.”

Former Pitt sports activities data director Sam Sciullo does not disagree. “Pitt followers take a look at West Virginia as extra of a nuisance or an annoyance. Like slightly gnat flying round your ear whenever you’re in mattress in the summertime,” he stated.

“Pitt simply thinks they’re higher than us,” added former West Virginia quarterback Marc Bulger.

Not surprisingly, there is no lack of ailing will between the 2 sides. That has been clear just about anytime Pitt has ridden into Morgantown.

“They could be beating on the bus, they might be rocking the bus or they might be throwing stuff on the bus,” stated Jackie Sherrill, Pitt’s head coach from 1977 to 1981.

“[Former Pitt head coach Johnny Majors] used to inform us to maintain our hats on as a result of some projectiles are going to be coming down,” stated Tony Dorsett, who performed at Pitt from 1973 to 1976. “You did not know what was going to occur.”

Thirty-one years later, in 2007, the Panthers and freshman quarterback Pat Bostick rode into Morgantown and had practically the identical expertise.

“We didn’t get nickels and quarters and dimes thrown at our heads … however we did have full beer cans thrown at our buses. We did have males, girls, kids, flipping us the hen, saying, ‘Eat s—, Pitt!’ All these issues have been actual,” he stated.

The hate for Pitt is engrained early for these in Morgantown. “Any good West Virginia dad or mum that is a WVU grad raises their child to have the ability to say ‘Eat s—, Pitt’ throughout ‘Candy Caroline,'” Antonik stated of the Neil Diamond anthem.

The most typical retort from the Pitt trustworthy to Mountaineers followers is to make references to West Virginia being from “the nation.” Probably the most notorious instance of that got here in 1994.

Through the recreation, Pitt public tackle announcer Don Eire made a number of bulletins making enjoyable of West Virginia. In a single, Eire stated there was a tractor within the car parking zone with its lights on with a West Virginia license plate that learn “EIEIO.” He additionally stated the stadium’s smoking ban included corn-cob pipes.

Bulger, the previous Mountaineers QB who grew up in Pittsburgh, stated his first reminiscence of the Yard Brawl was listening to Eire make the “EIEIO” crack, which precipitated a little bit of a firestorm. Pitt athletic director Oval Jaynes apologized to West Virginia officers for the bulletins by Eire, who briefly resigned within the aftermath however was reinstated.

“Wanting again, I am going, ‘That is so disrespectful.’ And we’re 70 miles from Morgantown,” Bulger stated. “I am [from] inner-city Pittsburgh. We’re not far; we’re the identical folks. I do not get the entire redneck factor. That is the factor that bugs me probably the most.”

The depth of the rivalry can lead folks to do issues they usually would not.

Sherrill all the time had a priest journey with the group to guide the Lord’s Prayer and provides a blessing on the highway. The 1977 journey to Morgantown was no totally different.

“So he referred to as everyone up and so they stated the Lord’s Prayer and gave a blessing,” Sherrill stated. “And the nickname of West Virginia at the moment was ‘the snakes’ — that was what the Pitt folks referred to as West Virginia. And shortly after he gave the blessing, he stated, ‘OK, laddies, now’s the time to exit and kick the s— out of the snakes.’ The gamers checked out one another. They could not consider that he stated it.”

Pitt gained the sport 44-3.

The proximity of the colleges, that are slightly greater than an hour’s drive aside on Interstate 79, provides gas to the hearth.

“A part of the fascinating dynamic is, in case you go to West Virginia, you go to Pitt, you are getting recruited by each colleges for probably the most half, whether or not you are from Florida, Texas or Pittsburgh,” Bostick stated. “So our coaches knew their gamers, their coaches knew our gamers.

“[In 2007] Vaughn Rivers fumbled a kickoff return, Lowell Robinson stripped him. And I bear in mind a coach of ours speaking to Vaughn on the sideline, saying, ‘You must have come to Pitt — this would not have occurred.'”

The recruiting wars precipitated some laborious emotions and put a chip on many shoulders.

Bulger went to Central Catholic Excessive Faculty, lower than a mile from the College of Pittsburgh. Dave Havern, Bulger’s quarterbacks coach at Central Catholic, ran right into a Pitt assistant coach at some point and tried to persuade him to try Bulger.

“I stated, ‘Hear, dude, what’s up? I imply, you would stroll down and see this child,'” Havern stated. “I stated, ‘He is actually good! And I am not simply saying that. I imply, you understand, I would like you guys to do effectively.’ So that they stated, ‘We do not suppose he is a D-I participant.'”

“It wasn’t Johnny, me and Coach Majors turned buddies after,” Bulger stated, “however his coordinators advised me I would not play Division II, not to mention Division I. And I stated, ‘OK.’ Coach [Don] Nehlen got here in and wished me and so I went down there.”

Regardless of Nehlen giving Bulger an opportunity at West Virginia, the QB had one gripe along with his coach.

“Coach Nehlen was the very best ever. I really like the man,” Bulger stated. “I am simply mad he pulled me within the third quarter. We’re enjoying in Three Rivers [Stadium] in ’98. I had six touchdowns. I wished to get to love eight or 9, and after the third quarter he pulled me. I am going, ‘I wished to remain in!’ and there is no means another person is gonna throw 9 or 10 touchdowns in a recreation, even these days. However he did not need to get me harm as a result of it was all the time a day after Thanksgiving and the bowl was coming.

“However I would have beloved to throw 10 TDs on Pitt, that’d have been so nice … As a result of I knew the coaches have been nonetheless there that advised me I wasn’t ok.”

THERE ARE GAMES that assist outline the rivalry. There are some which are merely nice video games. After which there are some which are each.

In 1955, West Virginia was 7-0 and ranked No. 6 within the nation going into the Brawl earlier than dropping to Pitt, ruining the Mountaineers’ Sugar Bowl bid. The Panthers have been chosen as a substitute.

West Virginia knocked off Pitt in what is called the “Rubbish Recreation” in 1961 after one in all Pitt’s gamers stated the Mountaineers have been rebuilding their program with “Western Pennsylvania rubbish.”

In 1975, Mountaineers walk-on kicker Invoice McKenzie made the go-ahead subject purpose within the closing seconds to offer West Virginia a win over No. 20 Pitt. Because the Panthers have been leaving Morgantown for the drive again to Pittsburgh, they may see couches being set on hearth alongside the best way.

“It was most likely the most important social gathering Morgantown has ever had,” Sherrill stated.

Pitt would get revenge the next season in a recreation wherein Dorsett set off an precise brawl on the finish.

“As the sport went on, there have been guys, you understand, they’d sort out me after which be within the pileup pinching me, punching me, or on this explicit state of affairs was after they tackled me and the one defender as I used to be getting up, he pushed my head into the turf,” he stated. “I misplaced it at that time.”

Dorsett was ejected for the primary time in his faculty profession. He would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season and assist Pitt win its ninth nationwide championship.

When it comes to capturing the depth, ardour and spirit of the rivalry, it is laborious to high 1970, when West Virginia opened a 35-8 lead within the first half.

“​​Every little thing that we did within the first half labored,” former West Virginia linebacker Tom Zakowski stated. “We simply scored landing after landing. Got here in off the sphere at halftime within the locker room, you understand, lots of pleasure, lots of happiness, lots of again slapping.”

The ambiance within the Pitt locker room, not surprisingly, was fairly totally different, however not in the best way one would possibly anticipate.

“We went in at halftime and it was like, jeez. No person was yelling and screaming and the coaches weren’t berating us for the rotten half we had performed,” then-Panthers quarterback Dave Havern stated. “However I bear in mind it was a child, a man John Stevens. He was a giant defensive sort out from Sharon, Pennsylvania, up round Youngstown. And a giant, robust man, you understand?

“So Stevens will get up and he is a brawler, he says, ‘Hey, I don’t give a rattling what occurs the remainder of this half, however I am beating the s— out of my man.'”

West Virginia did not get a single first down within the second half, whereas Pitt switched to a Energy-I offense and ran the ball the whole half, profitable the sport 36-35.

After the sport, West Virginia followers have been banging on the Mountaineers’ locker room door, livid at then-head coach Bobby Bowden.

Invoice Hillgrove, who has been the voice of Pitt athletics since 1974, stated, “The vivid reminiscence there was that the press field had a microphone down close to the locker room to get gamers’ quotes. And you would hear the West Virginia followers chanting for Bobby Bowden’s head due to the best way the sport went.”

“There are folks alive today that keep in mind that recreation that also are satisfied that Bobby Bowden is a horrible soccer coach,” Antonik stated. “From that second on, nothing might persuade them in any other case.”

West Virginia had its personal enormous comeback in 1983. The yr prior, No. 2 Pitt and No. 14 West Virginia performed one of many rivalry’s greatest video games from a nationwide perspective, with Dan Marino sealing the Panthers’ win with a 6-yard landing go with 3 minutes, 24 seconds to play.

West Virginia quarterback Jeff Hostetler needed to be helped onto the bus after the sport due to the bodily play of Pitt’s ferocious protection.

Nehlen’s groups had been chipping away at Pitt since he took over in Morgantown in 1980, and whereas the Mountaineers got here shut in 1982, Hostetler helped him kick the door down in 1983.

“Loads of issues have been predicated on the yr earlier than,” Hostetler stated. “That Pitt group had, I feel, 9 or 10 drafted gamers within the NFL — they have been loaded. And that is a recreation that we should always have gained, we had the chance. We performed rather well, and we let it slip away on the very finish towards a particularly proficient group. And in order that style by no means left any of my teammates and I. We wished this recreation.”

West Virginia trailed 21-17 with 12:27 to play and began what could be the game-winning drive by itself 10-yard line.

“I can bear in mind entering into the huddle and saying, ‘Ninety yards. Right here we go, guys. We’re going. We’re scoring,'” Hostetler stated.

At one level through the drive, Hostetler scrambled out of bounds and was once more hit by the Pitt protection that had tormented him the yr earlier than.

“The stadium was packed, the sidelines have been packed,” Hostetler stated. “I am laying on the sidelines simply having gotten hit, and unexpectedly I am being lifted up by two or three guys. And I look, and so they’re my brothers. By some means they acquired down onto the sphere, and so they’re yelling, ‘Again in there — let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!'”

Hostetler acquired up and completed the drive. With the ball on Pitt’s 6-yard line, Nehlen referred to as for a bootleg that Hostetler stated he had been asking for the whole second half.

“I knew it will work, and I could not get Coach to name it,” Hostetler stated. “After which we’re down there on the 6, and he calls it, it is identical to, ‘I do know we’re scoring.’ It was an superior, superior feeling. Particularly being at dwelling, and particularly towards Pitt.”

Antonik stated the sport was a defining one for Nehlen’s tenure as Mountaineers coach.

“It snapped a seven-game dropping streak,” Antonik stated. “And from that time on, it utterly modified. The entire stability of the collection modified.”

For the reason that Hostetler-led, 24-21 comeback win, West Virginia leads the collection 18-9-2.

“I feel that on this rivalry to actually get a full view and understanding of this recreation is whenever you lose it,” Antonik stated. “That is whenever you actually really feel the complete impact of this soccer recreation.”

PITT WAS A four-touchdown underdog going into Morgantown in 2007. The week earlier than, the 10-1 Mountaineers put up 66 factors and 624 yards towards No. 20 UConn. The ultimate recreation of the common season was anticipated to be a tuneup.

Within the week main as much as the sport, Wannstedt was involved with how the Panthers have been working towards defensively.

Standing with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, Wannstedt seemed over to the defensive facet and noticed the group doing tackling drills. Extra time handed, and about midway by means of the follow, Wannstedt seemed over once more. The protection was nonetheless doing tackling drills.

“Paul Rhoads was our defensive coordinator,” Wannstedt stated. “So I stroll over, I say, ‘Paul, come right here. What are we doing?’ And he says, ‘Coach, the extra movie I take a look at, if we do not sort out these guys, it do not make any distinction what scheme now we have. We won’t cease them. They’re that athletic and that quick.’

“Lengthy story brief, on the finish of the sport, we had eight missed tackles for the whole recreation. In years previous, we’d have eight missed tackles on one play.”

The sport went precisely the best way Pittsburgh wanted it to with a purpose to win — 5 West Virginia turnovers, a thumb damage to Mountaineers quarterback Pat White, two missed kicks by WVU’s Pat McAfee. Pitt was in a position to stick with its recreation plan and never ask an excessive amount of of Bostick, giving McCoy as many touches as attainable.

Pitt gained 13-9, and West Virginia’s probability to play for the nationwide championship was misplaced.

“You understand how when folks undergo like traumatic situations and so they kinda attempt to overlook every thing that occurred round it?” White stated. “Aside from me dislocating my thumb and the final play of the sport, I could not inform you what occurred. I’ve but to observe it. I do not know if I can.”

“They already had the banner hanging out in entrance of the Hilton down in New Orleans,” Wannstedt stated. “‘Welcome Mountaineers!’ They have been gonna play the nationwide championship recreation. It was achieved.”

“I bear in mind postgame,” Bostick stated. “I’ve by no means been in a locker room like that. You can hear us in (then-West Virginia coach) Wealthy Rodriguez’s press convention. Like they’re on lockers, there are guys crowd browsing. There’s a lot that night time that is such a blur. As a result of, you understand, for me, it was gonna be the end result of a fairly robust season. But it surely simply occurred and was one of many issues that you would not have predicted would occur.”

On the opposite facet, Rodriguez and his group have been in shock.

“I had a really temporary speak with them after which went again to the coaches’ locker room — and puked slightly bit,” he stated.

THE BACKYARD BRAWL was historically performed on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This season, the sport will function faculty soccer’s opening act for Week 1.

Each head coaches and their gamers shall be getting their first style of the Brawl. West Virginia coach Neal Brown stated simply because this yr’s recreation is totally different than in years previous, that does not make it any much less significant.

“You begin interested by it, we’re a fairly younger group,” he stated. “Our guys have been 8, 9, 10, 11 years outdated final time this recreation was performed, so there’s not a complete lot of recall, even from the fellows which are from the state of West Virginia. …

“However man, you need to convey out actual ardour within the West Virginia fan base — our alumni or our former gamers — you speak concerning the Yard Brawl, and also you get it. You play ‘Candy Caroline’ one time at a West Virginia occasion, and then you definitely get an concept of what this rivalry means. So the significance of the sport isn’t misplaced on myself or our group or workers.”

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi stated, “The people who have been right here 10 or 15 years in the past that acquired spit on, they acquired rocks thrown or beer dumped on them, these are folks that basically get into rivalries. However I do know sufficient about rivalries that I need to embrace it for our children as a result of it is essential to us. And if it is essential to our followers within the Panther nation, it is essential to me. That is what we do, is go combat for one another, and so that is what it is all about.”

West Virginia redshirt senior vast receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton will develop into the third technology in his household to take part within the Brawl. His grandfather performed in it within the Sixties, and his uncle performed in it within the late Nineteen Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties.

“I simply by no means actually really thought I would have my very own crack at Pitt,” Ford-Wheaton stated. “So for it to come back full circle — I simply bear in mind all of the brawls through the recreation or the fights I’d see, the chippiness and, I imply, there’s actually a hatred for Pitt. So simply to lastly expertise that myself and have the ability to play within the recreation goes to be a loopy factor.”

West Virginia senior defensive lineman Dante Stills, whose father performed within the rivalry within the mid ’90s, stated, “My dad advised me it is a tough recreation, it is gonna be backwards and forwards, it is gonna be very bodily. So I am simply getting that mindset the place I am simply going to put down on the road.”

Pitt and West Virginia have a home-and-home settlement that runs by means of the 2025 season, with Pitt internet hosting this yr and 2024. After a three-year hiatus, the groups are scheduled to satisfy every season from 2029 to 2032.

Whereas that is all effectively and good for the followers, the gamers’ major focus stays Thursday night time.

“So many individuals are so enthusiastic about it, when folks speak about it, I really feel it of their voices,” Pitt redshirt senior defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre stated. “I feel it is massive for Pittsburgh, it is massive for West Virginia simply to have this Yard Brawl again.”