MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Rich Rodriguez could barely get the words out. He paused. He shook his head. He looked down at the table in front of him, as if searching for a way to describe how West Virginia let its chance at a national title slip away.
Eventually the Mountaineers' coach came up with this.
"It was just a nightmare," he said. "The whole thing was a nightmare."
In a season defined by upsets, the second-ranked Mountaineers became the latest to be felled by the curse of No. 2, falling to their fierce rival Pittsburgh 13-9 Saturday night.
A win away from playing for the national championship, the Mountaineers (10-2, 5-2 Big East) were expected to roll over rival Pittsburgh (5-7, 3-4) in the 100th Brackyard Brawl on their way to New Orleans for the Bowl Championship Series title game.
No way. Not in this unpredictable season, when nothing has gone according to plan and upsets have become so frequent the word itself has almost lost its meaning.
Pitt, which had lost four of the last five to West Virginia and allowed 45 points to the Mountaineers in each of the last two games in the series, celebrated the biggest victory of coach Dave Wannstedt's three lackluster seasons.
"I remember walking off the field two years ago at halftime saying that we needed to run faster," said Wannstedt, who received a three-year contract extension on Friday. "Today, we ran faster."
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"It's exciting to know people believe in you, even after a difficult season," said Wannstedt, who like Rodriguez is coaching his alma mater.
No. 2 had already lost six times this season, five times to unranked teams. In a year when Appalachian State beat Michigan and 41-point underdog Stanford beat Southern California, West Virginia losing as a four-touchdown favorite probably shouldn't even be all that shocking.
Especially after the Mountaineers lost Heisman Trophy contender Pat White to a dislocated thumb in the second quarter. White tried to play in the fourth quarter, but he couldn't put together a comeback.
"I just wanted to help the team as much as I can," White said. "It was killing me sitting on the sidelines."
When Pitt punter Dave Brytus ran out of the end zone for a safety on the final clock-killing play, West Virginia, a program that has won more games then any other in major college football without winning a national title, was done.
WVU Fans sat stone faced. The Panthers did some dancing on the WV logo at midfield. Some West Virginia players took offense and there was a push or two. Most of the Mountaineers just trudged off slowly.
"If we would have lost every game this season and won this game, my season is a success," Pitt offensive lineman Mike McGlynn said. "They were going to try to get their team into the national championship. They tried. It didn't happen."
Sitting at home in Columbus, Ohio, the Buckeyes got the last upset they needed to get themselves back in the national title game.
In fact, they got it twice. No. 1 Missouri lost in the Big 12 championship game 38-17 to No. 9 Oklahoma, making the BCS a total mess heading into selection Sunday.
Almost a month ago, Ohio State was No. 1 and in control of the Bowl Championship Series title race when it lost at home 28-21 to Illinois. The Buckeyes beat Michigan a week later to lock up the Big Ten then watched week after week as the other contenders went down.
They needed one more to fall Saturday and West Virginia was first to oblige.
Today the Mountaineers will have to be content with their second BCS bid in the last three seasons and a trip to the Orange or Sugar bowls.
"We picked a bad time to play our worst game offensively in years," Rodriguez said.
The Mountaineers' struggled offensively even before White went out. They squandered two scoring opportunities in the first quarter, missing short field goals, and finished with a season-low 183 yards and only nine first downs. That's usually a good quarter for West Virginia, which came in averaging 310 yards rushing and 42 points.
"It was just frustrating we weren't able to put the ball in the end zone," said White, who had run for over 100 yards in each of his last four games. "It hurts, but everything happens for a reason."
LeSean McCoy was the star. The Pitt freshman ran for 148 yards on a tough 38 carries. Pat Bostick scored the only touchdown for Pitt on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make it 10-7 in the third quarter.
White ran for 41 yards, and was 5-for-10 passing for 50 yards. He was supposed to be done for the night after dislocating his thumb in the second quarter, but reappeared in the fourth, taking snaps on the sideline after Conor Lee's 18-yard field goal made it 13-7 with 6:17 left.
The scene was set for a Hollywood ending and Noel Devine gave a lifeless and cold crowd a reason to cheer when he broke a 48-yard kick return to set West Virginia up at the Pitt 33.
White couldn't even lead the Mountaineers to a first down. Steve Slaton was stopped on a fourth-and-2.
Pitt couldn't keep the ball. McCoy scooted around the corner for a first down on third-and-long, but a late flag for holding wiped it out and gave the Mountaineers and White one more shot.
White hit Darius Reynaud for 17 yards to the 33, then he did what he does best, darting for 12 yards to the 21.
That drive died too, with White overthrowing a receiver in the end zone on fourth-and-long on West Virginia's final offensive play.
"Pat White is a champion," said backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, who ran 6 yards for the Mountaineers' only touchdown in the second quarter, capping the drive in which White was injured while being tackled at the line of scrimmage. "Everybody is hurt from it, but he is a champion and he will bounce back from it."
White and Slaton are both juniors and could very well be back to make another run next year. As for this season, the Mountaineers are left to wonder how it got away.
"It will be a long month," Rodriguez said, "but hopefully we can bounce back."
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