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Palko near-perfect on deciding TD drive

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko found himself
down late in the game against a favored opponent for the second
game in a row. Just as he got it done against Notre Dame, he got it
done against West Virginia.

Palko, frustrated nearly all night by West Virginia's defense,
completed four third-down passes on Pittsburgh's only sustained
drive before scoring from the 2 late in the game to lead a 16-13
upset of the No. 21 Mountaineers on Thursday night.

Until Palko turned Darrelle Revis' interception of Rasheed
Marshall's pass into Pitt's only touchdown, the sophomore
quarterback had followed up a five-touchdown effort against Notre
Dame with a mostly miserable game. He finished 14-of-38 for 165
yards and an interception.

But Palko was near perfect on the deciding 73-yard drive,
hitting top receiver Greg Lee three times for 38 yards on
third-down passes and tight end Erik Gill on a fourth. An 8-yard
interference penalty on linebacker Adam Lehnortt in the end zone
against Lee gave Pitt a first down at the West Virginia 2, and
Palko scored on a rollout with 4:06 remaining to give Pitt its
first lead.

It was a similar ending to Pitt's 41-38 upset of Notre Dame on
Nov. 13, when Palko rallied the Panthers from a 35-31 deficit by
leading two scoring drives in the final three minutes.

"That's what I kept hearing when they gave me the keys to this
bus -- we need a quarterback who can win big games," Palko said,
referring to Pitt's recent history of failing against its big
rivals and ranked opponents. "I expect to win big games."

Until the late drive, the Pittsburgh-raised Marshall had
outplayed a Pitt quarterback for the third straight season by
directing a virtual one-man offense depleted by the suspension of
top receiver Chris Henry and an injury to top rusher Kay-Jay
Harris. Harris was held to 5 yards on three carries.

No doubt it will be a tough loss to West Virginia to accept,
especially because Lee appeared to trap the ball on one of his
third-down catches.

"It was a very disappointing night," West Virginia coach Rich
Rodriguez said. "It's frustrating. It starts with the coaching, it
starts with me. There were too many mistakes, too many penalties
(89 yards to Pitt's 10). You can't beat yourself."

Pitt's first victory over its biggest rival since 2001
effectively assured the Panthers (7-3, 4-2 in Big East) of a bowl
bid -- possibly to the Gator -- and muddied West Virginia's bowl
plans. The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2) now might settle for the Insight
Bowl after being the front-runner for the Big East's guaranteed BCS
bowl bid before its 36-17 upset loss to Boston College two weeks
ago.

"It's three losses for us," Marshall said. "It feels like
eight."

If Palko hadn't found his game again in the fourth quarter, the
Panthers appeared headed for their 10th loss in their last 13 in
the East's second most-played major college rivalry to Army-Navy.
They managed only three Josh Cummings field goals despite repeated
scoring opportunities and Tim Murphy's 106 yards rushing.

"But our quarterback played that drive like I expect him to
play the rest of his career," coach Walt Harris said. "He made
the plays. He did a wonderful job."

Offensive tackle Rob Petitti echoed that, saying, "Ever since
I've been here, it seems we come up short (in the fourth quarter).
Tyler Palko won't let us do that. He expects us to win, and he's
just great to have in the huddle. He's a great leader."

The 97th edition of the rivalry known as the Backyard Brawl was
exactly that -- a physical, tightly played game filled with more big
plays by the defenses than the offenses and mistakes aplenty by
both teams.

West Virginia's special teams were dreadful again, just as they
were in allowing two punt return touchdowns against Boston College.
Brad Cooper missed two of four field goal tries before freshman
Andy Good kicked a 31-yarder in the third quarter on his first
attempt of the season, punter Phil Brady averaged only 29.3 yards
on four punts and the Mountaineers twice drew penalties for running
into Pitt punter Adam Graessle.

Even after all that, the Mountaineers still had a chance to win
it until Marshall -- who ran for 104 yards and passed for 145 more --
threw incomplete on fourth and 6 from the Pitt 33 with 42 seconds
remaining. The play before, wide receiver Dwayne Thompson just
missed completing a flea flicker pass into the end zone to Marshall
that H.B. Blades may have tipped.

"It was a play we put in this week," Marshall said. "I had my
hands on it and I felt it should have been a score."

Pitt won its fifth in six games for Harris, whose 24-12 record
over the last three seasons is the best by a Pitt coach over a
three-year span since Jackie Sherrill went 33-3 from 1979-81.

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