With the boos from a sellout crowd of 57,250 still ringing in his ears, Dan Marino directed Pittsburgh to two touchdowns in the last quarter today to give the Panthers a dramatic 16-13 victory over inspired West Virginia.
It took two bad snaps by West Virginia's substitute center and a barely short field goal attempt by one of the nation's most successful kickers, Paul Woodside of Falls Church, Va., for Pitt to escape its arch rivals. Pitt is ranked No. 1 by United Press International and No. 2 by Associated Press.
"They can expect what they want," Marino said of the booing. "I expect a lot from myself, too. But as long as we win, that's what counts."
Marino clearly was outperformed by opposing quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who had guided the Mountaineers to a 13-0 lead on this warm, sunny afternoon. Nevertheless, Marino was good at the end, throwing a six-yard slant-in pass to split end Julius Dawkins in the end zone with 3:26 left to play for the winning touchdown.
"It was an audible," said Marino, who completed 20 of 41 for 211 yards, but was intercepted twice and threw many passes poorly. "We had been using sideline routes, but this time the inside was open."
The winning touchdown was set up when Hostetler, trying to protect a 13-7 West Virginia lead, fumbled a snap and Dan Short recovered for Pitt at the West Virginia 48 with 6:04 to play. Two third-down completions on down-and-out patterns, one for 16 yards and the other for 14, moved the ball to the eight-yard line.
Following a two-yard plunge, Dawkins faked outside, cut inside of cornerback Tim Lewis and grabbed the chest high pass just over the goal line. The extra point by Eric Schubert put Pitt ahead, 14-13.
After an exchange of punts and a safety -- when Hostetler was knocked out of the end zone by tackle Bill Maas -- the Mountaineers still had a chance to tie. Woodside, a sophomore, had kicked field goals of 34 and 29 yards and needed just one more to tie the NCAA record of 16 in a row.
Woodside got his chance with seven seconds remaining.
The kick was straight, but fell inches short, according to safety Tom Flynn, who was standing under the crossbar and leaped in an effort to deflect the ball.
"It skimmed the bottom of the upright, I could hear it," Flynn said. "I was afraid I might tip it over, so I held myself back a little."
Woodside, who made a 49-yarder in West Virginia's victory over Florida in the Peach Bowl, was not happy with his effort.
"I didn't hit it real well," he said. "I didn't get under it enough to get enough height on it. That just kind of typifies the whole game, we just came up inches short."
West Virginia, which had opened the season by stunning the Sooners in Oklahoma, seemed to be in control today, but, ironically, it was the Mountaineers' best defensive play that seemed to inspire the Panthers.
Darryl Talley, an all-East linebacker who made 10 tackles, broke through and blocked Greg Ganzer's punt. The ball bounced back into the end zone where linebacker Fred Smalls missed it before Talley fell on it for a touchdown. Woodside's conversion made it 13-0 with 14:08 to play.
"That blocked punt brought tears to my eyes," said Pitt flanker Dwight Collins, who caught five passes for 62 yards. "I started crying and went up to each offensive player to get them fired up. We hadn't done anything all day and I told them it was now or never."
Pitt immediately got its offense in motion. With Marino completing passes for 18 and 10 yards, the Panthers drove to the West Virginia 17 before he missed. On third down from the 14, an obvious interference call gave Pitt a first down at the three. Bryan Thomas took a pitchout and circled his left end for the touchdown on the next play.
West Virginia's next two possessions were stopped by fumbled snaps by Hostetler after regular center Dave Johnson injured his knee and was replaced Andre Gist, who was recovering from an injury. Gist lasted only a couple of plays and West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen had to use offensive guard Bill Legg to snap.
"Losing Dave Johnson was very critical to us," Nehlen said. "We hadn't handled a snap all week with Legg and it's an awful position to put a kid in."
Although Hostetler completed 19 of 39 passes for 214 yards, he was hindered by badly bruised ribs, forcing him to leave the game once.
Pitt failed to capitalized on the first recovered fumble, but the second one proved to be the impetus it needed to come from behind for the fourth time in four victories this season.
"The defensive guys were screaming at the offense in the fourth quarter," cornerback Troy Hill said. "We've got a chance to win the national championship and we can't afford to keep playing like this. But for now, we'll let the offense sell the tickets and the defense win the games."