“I had a feeling pretty early in the fourth quarter that it could possibly come down to my foot,” he said.
Most kickers can only dream of a moment like that: a moment where the whole game (in his case, the most significant game of the season) lies on their shoulders.
Everyone knows the story behind the Backyard Brawl: the rivalry, the importance, the meaning. This is Tyler Bitancurt’s story.
“The atmosphere that night was electric, as any Backyard Brawl was expected to be,” he said. “Pitt was ranked in the top ten heading into that game and they were fighting for a chance to be Big East champions. So naturally, as rivals, we were eager to make sure that didn’t happen.”
As a freshman special teams player, Bitancurt didn’t necessarily expect his opportunity to shine to come at the end of a game of this magnitude. For those of you lucky enough to have attended a Backyard Brawl, it’s an atmosphere you’ll likely never forget.
Bitancurt still remembers everything clear as day, six years later.
“This particular game was during Thanksgiving break but I remember how many students actually made the trip back early to attend the game,” he said. “It was only years later when I realized the magnitude of that support, especially when the weather was brutally cold.”
For those fans that were in attendance, braving Morgantown’s harsh November temperatures was well worth the ending they were about to witness.
West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown led the Mountaineers downfield as the fourth quarter dwindled down with the score tied at 16-16. With just three seconds remaining on the clock, Bitancurt made his way onto Mountaineer Field to attempt a kick from 43 yards out.
“I had to keep a clear mind,” he said. “I simply imagined myself making field goals from different spots on the field, long, short, different angles, basically any possible situation I could be put in imagining the ball going straight through the uprights each kick.”
Pitt was ranked No. 8 in the nation at the time. The Panthers carried a 9-1 record into Morgantown, and in that moment, Bitancurt was focused solely on sending them home with another loss tacked on. Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt did the only thing left for him to do to save the game; call a timeout to halt Bitancurt and his freshman nerves dead in their tracks.
“As I was set for the kick, the Pitt coach called timeout to freeze me,” said Bitancurt. “During the time out, Bill Stewart (head coach, WVU) had the line and team together and told them to “Do your job and Bitancurt will too.” He looked at me and gave me a wink with confidence, which only built mine.”
Bill Stewart always had a way with words.
As the ball sailed through the air (right towards the middle of those uprights just like he had imagined), Bitancurt began jumping up and down with excitement before it even reached the goal post. A freshman from Springfield, Va., had just sealed the deal in the Backyard Brawl.
“The celebration with the team on Mountaineer Field that night was my most special moment as a Mountaineer,” he said.
“Coach Stewart simply said, “I love you”. He was like a father figure to the team and he really did love us. In the locker room with the team gathered around before we sang the fight song, he gave me praise for the kick but was quick to remind everyone how well fought the whole game was. We were unranked and defeated a really good Pittsburgh team.”
Bitancurt left his mark on WVU that night. Though he doesn’t return to Morgantown very often, he still holds Milan Puskar, and the university, dear to his heart.
“I loved my time at WVU,” he said. “As Pat White said, “Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer” so I am still proud to be an ‘Eer and will continue to be. I met a lot of great people in Morgantown and I consider some of them like family to this day.”
Bitancurt’s football career ended shortly after his senior season in 2012. Though he dabbled at the opportunity to play professionally in the NFL, he later recognized it wasn’t the path he wanted to take.
“As for the NFL, I realized it wasn’t for me. I got into kicking because I was a soccer player, a sport I loved. I never really fell in love with football like I did soccer and I think that’s one main reason why I couldn’t see myself trying out for pro teams,” he said. “People told me that I might regret not trying for the pros after college and look back and be upset about it, but I can say to this day I’m happier just sitting back and watching others play the game.”