Nov. 24, 2000
By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh is going to only its second bowl game in 11 years, and the surprise is how the Panthers got there - by land rather than by air.
The Panthers overcame four interceptions by two quarterbacks with a big day on the ground as Kevan Barlow ran for 272 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-28 victory over rival West Virginia on Friday.
The Panthers (7-4, 4-3 Big East) beat the Mountaineers (6-5, 3-4) for the first time since 1997 - the last time they went to the bowl - and spoiled Don Nehlen's last regular-season game as West Virginia's coach.
Pitt's seven-victory season is its first since 1989. The Panthers could land in the Gator Bowl or the Insight.com Bowl depending on the outcome of Saturday games involving Notre Dame, Miami and Virginia Tech.
"They don't have to say we're rebuilding anymore," coach Walt Harris said. "It took us four years to get to 7-4, and it wasn't a pretty 7-4, but I hope the recruits we're after sense the potential of this program."
While Pitt is getting started under Harris, Nehlen will end his 30-year career with a 201-128-9 record, 148-93-4 at West Virginia, unless the Mountaineers land a bowl bid.
"I'm sure we're going to a bowl," tackle Tanner Russell said. "There's not a doubt in my mind. It's Don Nehlen's last game and they know that. They (the bowls) aren't stupid."
Barlow's yardage was the second most at Pitt to Dorsett's 303 against Notre Dame in 1975 and gave him 1,053 yards for the season. He is Pitt's first 1,000-yard rusher since Billy West in 1994.
Barlow also broke the West Virginia opponent record of 216 yards by Syracuse's Larry Csonka in 1965.
"I told him before the game he was going to score four times and he told me to get out of his face," said Pitt receiver Antonio Bryant, who had six catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. "After he got his four, I said I was going to score and I did."
Pitt led 504-392 in total yardage and 275-49 in rushing while overcoming four interceptions, three by backup quarterback David Priestley on the Panthers' final three drives of the first half.
The Panthers beat West Virginia for only the second time in nine years and at least partially atoned for blowout losses to the Mountaineers the last two seasons, 52-21 in 1999 and 52-14 in 1998.
Several West Virginia players talked beforehand about how flat Pitt was last season, and Mountaineers defensive backs Rick Sherrod and Shawn Hackett dared Bryant to come over the middle.
"I went over the middle, around the middle, through the middle, above the middle," Bryant said.
The Panthers also went up the middle. Normally, a passing-first team - they are next-to-last in Big East rushing - they used the run to set up the pass and Barlow scored on a 56-yard run on their first drive.
Barlow, a senior who was benched several times this season for fumbling, had 112 yards just on his scoring runs of 56, 2, 30 and 24 yards.
"We tried to arm tackle him and, well, that didn't work," linebacker Chris Edmonds said. "He has a big career ahead of him."
Barlow's last two scores came three minutes apart in the third quarter and upped Pitt's lead to 28-3. The 24-yarder came immediately after West Virginia was penalized 30 yards on a Pitt punt - 15 yards for roughing the punter and 15 for a post-play personal foul - to keep the drive alive.
The Panthers later made it 38-9 on John Turman's 58-yard touchdown pass to Bryant and Nick Lotz's 44-yard field goal. Turman started, was replaced by Priestley after one series, but finished after Priestley was intercepted on the three consecutive drives, twice inside the Mountaineers' 5.
Mostly because of the interceptions, Pitt dominated the first half, but led only 14-3 at halftime.
"I thought we'd win then," Nehlen said. "Pitt had self-destructed, should have been up 28-0, and I was real confident we had them."
West Virginia, losing in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1986, made a game of it by scoring the final three touchdowns, two in a span of 2:15 early in the fourth quarter.
Backup quarterback Scott McBrien hit Khori Ivy on a 17-yard scoring pass just ahead of Lance Frazier's 32-yard interception return score. McBrien, 13-of-28 for 257 yards, also found Phil Braxton on a 60-yard scoring pass play with 49 seconds remaining.
However, a wide-open Ivy dropped McBrien's pass in the end zone on the Mountaineers' next-to-last possession, effectively ending the comeback. The Mountaineers also missed two extra point kicks and a field goal.
"If we had played more like we did in the fourth quarter, we would have blown them out," Edmonds said.
Pittsburgh, possibly the only major college team to play successive years in stadiums that were to be torn down, finished 5-1 in its first and only full season in Three Rivers Stadium. They also beat rivals West Virginia and Penn State in the same season for the first time since 1987.
The Panthers move into the new Steelers stadium next season. Pitt Stadium, their home for 75 years, was demolished after last season for a new basketball arena.
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