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Pitt falls to WVU in the backyard brawl on Saturday night

From the cusp of the top 25 to a forgettable season?

What once appeared to be a promising 2023 campaign for the Pitt Panthers football team seems to be quickly unraveling, following a 17-6 loss to West Virginia in the latest edition of the Backyard Brawl on Saturday night.

Mountaineer Field was the host yard for the 2023 edition, and it looked like the Panthers would be rude guests when they marched right down the field on their opening possession of the first quarter. Unfortunately, a first and goal from the seven quickly turned into a fourth and goal from the three, and kicker Ben Sauls came on to salvage things with a 21-yard field goal.

It was mostly all Mountaineers from there.

This isn’t to say West Virginia dominated. No, what the Mountaineers did initially was turn the ball over on downs, punt and fumble on their next three drives. Sadly for Pitt, quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who was booed loudly a week prior in a  28-21 loss to Cincinnati at Acrisure Stadium, had an even worse game on Saturday night. Jurkovec completed eight of 20 passes for just 81 yards and three interceptions.

One of those interceptions happened two plays after WVU quarterback Nicco Marchiol, who came in earlier in the game to replace an injured Garrett Greene, fumbled deep in Panthers territory.

The pick set West Virginia up at the Pitt seven, and Marchiol quickly capitalized by hitting tight end Kole Taylor for a score to give the home team a 7-3 lead late in the second quarter.

The Panthers answered by driving deep into West Virginia territory on their next possession, but things stalled at the 18, and Sauls came on again for a 36-yard field goal to make it 7-6 at halftime.

That’s as close as the Panthers got.

Jurkovec threw two more interceptions, as Pitt’s offense totaled 58 yards over the final two periods.

The Mountaineers added 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

The loss drops the Panthers to 1-2 heading into ACC play.

Things don’t get any easier for Pitt. In fact, they get much more challenging with an undefeated and ranked North Carolina squad coming to town for a primetime matchup at Acrisure Stadium next Saturday night.

The Tar Heels have been a menace to the Pitt football program over the years, and it’s fitting that they’ll be the next opponent with the season on the brink of disaster.

Things haven’t felt this low for the Panthers in quite a while. Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native and sixth-year senior who came back home after stints with both Notre Dame and Boston College, is now public enemy number one with the fan base. Remember that field goal drive to begin the game? It included 10 straight runs before Sauls’s successful try.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is now under heavy pressure to replace his senior quarterback but told the media no changes were imminent following the loss to the Mountaineers.

Something has to change and fast, however, or those last two seasons that included a combined 20 victories, an ACC title, and a win over UCLA in the Sun Bowl could quickly disappear in a cloud of despair for a football program that spent many years with a reputation for “Pitting” things away.

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