It was ESPN’s “College Football Play of the Year” and a nominee for “Best Play” in all of sports at the ESPY awards show, which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday. If the outcome was different, it might be remembered in Pitt history right up there with Marino to Brown.
Instead, Darrelle Revis’ 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against West Virginia is best remembered as the top highlight in a season of second-half lowlights.
It was overshadowed by plays made by Mountaineers quarterback Pat White (220 yards rushing, 204 passing), and tailback Steve Slaton, who scored four touchdowns in rushing for 215 yards and catching six passes for 130 in WVU’s 45-27 victory Nov. 16 at Heinz Field.
“It was one of those plays that could have come out on the winning edge, but Pat White and Steve Slaton showcased what they can do, too, and overshadowed me,” Revis said. “That’s all we wanted, was the win.”
The punt return gave Pitt a 24-17 lead with 2:18 remaining in the second quarter. It is best known for Derek Kinder’s devastating block that flattened a pair of West Virginia players like dominoes. What isn’t as widely known is the gadgetry that was supposed to be involved.
It was designed to be a lateral toss from Revis to Kinder, which explains why Revis so effectively used a hesitation move and pump fake to momentarily freeze five players in pursuit of him and set up Kinder’s vicious hit.
“It was definitely planned that, if he had the opportunity, he was going to throw it,” Kinder said. “Thankfully, he didn’t.”
Pat McAfee’s rugby-style punt had bounced past Revis, who retrieved it off a bounce at the Pitt 27 with his back to the oncoming Mountaineers. Kinder watched intently as Revis wheeled left, getting as deep as Pitt’s 15-yard line, and headed toward him. Revis then used the stutter step and pump-fake to buy time.
“When I first saw it, it seemed like a broken play,” Kinder said. “I was hoping he’d get as many yards as possible. I tried to step in and make a block. It didn’t know it would be as hard as it was. I didn’t think, ‘OK, now I’m going to have this knockout blow.’ I was just at the perfect angle.”
WVU’s Ridwan Malik and Brad Palmer never saw Kinder. They were leveled in one blow, landing on top of each like Keystone Cops as Revis escaped untouched.
“Even when I hit them, they didn’t know I was there,” Kinder said. “They were so focused on Darrelle. They definitely missed me.”
Revis darted toward the Pitt sideline, sealed by linebacker Adam Gunn’s block, and slipped by when defensive backs Reggie Carter and Lowell Robinson sandwiched WVU’s Charles Pugh.
Pitt safety Irv Brown threw a block to spring Revis, who followed a trail of blockers to elude a number of Mountaineers trying to stop him. Revis sidestepped McAfee, the punter, then spun off WVU’s Boogie Allen at the 8-yard line and headed toward the end zone.
Another Pitt safety, Jemeel Brady, ran interference for Revis and was tackled by WVU’s Larry Williams, who made a desperate dive for Revis. Carter, amazingly enough, hustled downfield to follow the play and was tackled by defensive lineman Jason Karns in the end zone.
Even Revis couldn’t believe the teamwork involved.
“It went real slow, like it was something like The Matrix,” Revis said. “It was one of those plays that, when I looked at it on film, I didn’t know I did all of that and that guys blocked for me that much. It was a great play.”
All Kinder could do was watch from afar. At first, he turned and looked at the wreckage he caused. Then he pumped his fist, ripped off his chin strap and bounced up and down as Revis glided toward the end zone with an escort of blue jerseys leading the way.
“It felt so weird,” Kinder said. “I was celebrating, but all I could do was just stand there.”
Instead of becoming a play that served as the turning point in a monumental victory, it became lost in the shuffle of electric performances by the Mountaineers’ stars.
“You’d like to think in a game like the West Virginia game, it’s going back and forth, that a big play like that is the difference in a win,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “That’s the only sad thing, that that play wasn’t the difference in us winning the football game.”