Loss hurts even if Pitt upsets Cincinnati

by Alan Robinson

PITTSBURGH (AP)—Maybe No. 8 Pitt will shake off the disappointment of its first Backyard Brawl loss to West Virginia since 2006, beat No. 5 Cincinnati, win the Big East Conference and play in a BCS bowl.

Maybe a loss that will drop the Panthers out of the top 10 won’t hurt as badly if they end Cincinnati’s perfect season.

TOUGH LOSS—West Virginia’s Wes Lyons, right, dives for yardage while being held by Pitt’s Jarred Holley, lower left, during the first quarter Nov. 27, in Morgantown, W. Va.

Maybe. And that’s a big maybe.

A big loss before the Panthers’ biggest regular season game in decades means they could be asking themselves “What if…” after the season ends, just as they have so many times since their top 10 run of the late 1970s and early 1980s ended.

Whenever the Panthers seem ready to turn the corner and return to being the power player they long were, something bad seems to happen.

This time, something bad was West Virginia, a rival that has tormented Pitt repeatedly during a 102-game series in which the unexpected is commonplace and rankings and records truly mean nothing.

The Mountaineers’ last-play 19-16 victory in Morgantown last Friday night offered some payback for Pitt’s stunning upset of the then-No. 2 West Virginia in 2007. It also takes some of the gloss off the first championship game in the 18 years the Big East has played football.

“Coach told us not to dwell on this one too much, but it’s still tough,” defensive end Greg Romeus said. “And it hurts.”

Wannstedt doesn’t doubt his players will be ready Saturday for Cincinnati (11-0, 6-0 in Big East)., which yielded 102 points and 1,338 yards in beating Connecticut (47-45), West Virginia (24-21) and Illinois (49-36) in its last three games. However, Wannstedt also said they wouldn’t be thinking about Cincinnati when they were preparing for West Virginia, only to say afterward his players weren’t ready.

The Panthers (9-2, 5-1) huddled for a team meeting on Saturday—on what was supposed to be a day off—only 10 hours after returning to Pittsburgh.

“We told everyone that we’re coming in and we’re going to get going on Cincinnati,” linebacker Adam Gunn said. “Our goal this year is to win the Big East championship.”

Still, even if Pitt wins it, 10-2 won’t be the same as 11-1.

What if Stull hadn’t thrown two interceptions? What if Noel Devine hadn’t needed a single block to break free on an 88-yard touchdown run? What if Wannstedt hadn’t gambled on a 53-yard field goal try? What if West Virginia hadn’t gained the last inch needed for a critical first down on the decisive drive that ended with Tyler Bitancurt’s fourth field goal, a 43-yarder?

“This is tough, and it’s going to be tough,” said Stull. “Just considering the type of game this was, the Backyard Brawl, the last one for our seniors to be part of. …It hurts.”

Might for a very long time, too.

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