Pitt dominated West Virginia in the first half and took the victory 3-0 in front of a standing room only crowd of 1,514 fans at Ambrose Urbanic Field in the 51st edition of the Backyard Brawl.
The win for the Panthers (2-0) marks their first win over the Mountaineers (1-1) since a 7-0 drubbing at home over them in 2017. It is also just the 11th win for Panthers in the series and the second in three game at Ambrose Urbanic Field. The win also marks the eighth time that the Panthers beat a ranked top 10 team in the past three seasons.
Pitt started out the game without head coach Jay Vidovich and midfielders, graduate Ideal Shefqeti and junior Filip Mirkovic, who could not play because of Covid-19 protocols. In his place, assistant coach Michael Behonick served as head coach and said that most of the work before the game led Pitt to victory.
“For me, the scout was done,” Behonick said about his preparation for the game. “The work was done with the guys. Really just managing the game right and we put preparation in before we knew Jay [Vidovich] was going to be out of this game. Been with him for seven years so it’s just follow the plan and if the guys follow the plan then hopefully they execute like they did tonight.”
The news of your head coach and two players out just an hour before kick-off could disturb a team’s play, but Pitt didn’t let anything affect them at all in the first half.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the 11th minute, as junior forward Bertin Jacquesson crossed a long ball that found its way through the Mountaineers defenders all the way to senior midfielder Valentin Noel at the back post, who tapped it in with his left foot for his second goal of the season.
Soon after, Pitt got another chance with some brilliant link-up play. Graduate midfielder Lucas Rosa held up play, passed it directly to fellow graduate midfielder Jackson Walti, and then made the run forward to receive the ball on a give-and-go. Rosa then chipped it into the box for fellow graduate midfielder Rodrigo Almeida, who chested the ball down and lunged forward to shoot it on goal. WVU redshirt sophomore defender Alex Clayton knocked it off the line, right onto the post and in the midst of the scramble, Rosa sprung at the chance and put it in the back of the net to make it 2-0 in the 17th minute.
Lucas Rosa’s Goal Celebration (Photos Courtesy Ed Thompson)
Rosa transferred from St. Francis (Pa.) in 2021, but injuries sidelined him last season. He said that his connection with Almeida and Walti was vital in getting the end result for a great team goal.
“We always talk about before the games, like, let’s find each other,” Rosa said. “Let’s find that Brazilian connection between us and we were still able to find that with Walti there. The three of us were able to make a good play and luckily the ball ended up at my feet and I scored a goal.”
Jacquesson continued to star for Pitt, as he got a pass on the right side of the field and used his long stride and quickness to move past WVU redshirt senior defender Dyan Dromers. He then slotted his shot with his right foot that went past WVU junior goalkeeper Jackson Lee’s right glove and ended in the back of the net to up the lead to 3-0 in the 30th minute, giving him his second goal this year.
West Virginia struggled to do much throughout the first half. Defensively, they made several mistakes, such as the first goal where no one thought to mark Noel on the back post, allowing the chance to build up easily on the second goal and then giving Jacquesson far too much space on the third goal.
Offensively, they lost the ball often, preventing them from building much. They did put more pressure late in the first half, but the chances were weak and hardly challenged Pitt senior goalkeeper Joe Van Der Sar.
Neither team threatened much throughout the second half, as both teams were unable to create much in terms of quality chances. The best chance came for Pitt in the 76th minute as substitute and Lehigh transfer, graduate forward Josh Luchini had his shot saved at point-blank range by Lee.
Rosa spoke on the significance of the Backyard Brawl, noting that West Virginia fans traveled to the game, having their own away fans section.
“It feels great,” Rosa said. “You see the importance of the Backyard Brawl with WVU students here so good thing we were able to shut them down and put on a great show for the crowd.”
Pitt looks to keep their good start to season going as they travel to Huntington, W.V. to take on No. 14 Marshall this Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.