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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Hudson Clement has met every challenge so far in his young career.
The "Backyard Brawl" against rival Pittsburgh will test his mettle and then some.
The redshirt freshman will be among a group of players getting their first significant snaps in the rivalry being played for the 106th time Saturday night between schools separated by 75 miles and woven by mutual contempt.
The rosters for West Virginia (1-1) and Pittsburgh (1-1) have gone through considerable changes since the Panthers beat the Mountaineers 38-31 in Pittsburgh a year ago, when the rivalry resumed following an 11-year hiatus. West Virginia alone had to replace its top four receivers, its leading rusher and several players along the defensive line and the secondary.
A walk-on receiver, Clement didn’t play at West Virginia last season. In 2021, he set a West Virginia high school record with eight touchdowns for Martinsburg High in the state championship game and won the Randy Moss Award as the state’s top receiver.
Minutes before kickoff last week, Clement learned he would get his first start against Championship Subdivision Duquesne when Devin Carter was held back after getting banged up at practice. Clement responded with 177 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the 56-17 win and was rewarded with a scholarship after the game.
His infectious smile only got bigger when asked about Pitt.
“Growing up, you see that rivalry all the time and you see the atmosphere and you just think about playing in it,” Clement said. “Going into this, it’s crazy.”
On the other side, Panthers quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Boston College) and safety Donovan McMillon (Florida) transferred in this season and attended high school in the Pittsburgh area. Wide receiver Daejon Reynolds also arrived from Florida.
“I was pretty young the last time they played, what was it, 12 years ago?” McMillon said. “Not many memories.”
Oh, but the stories that can be told.
As football-playing members of the original Big East conference, West Virginia was a four-touchdown favorite in 2007 when visiting Pittsburgh won 13-9 to deny the second-ranked Mountaineers a spot in the national championship game and close out the Rich Rodriguez era in Morgantown.
Two years later, Pittsburgh was ranked No. 8 when Tyler Bitancurt's fourth field goal of the game, a 43-yarder as time expired, lifted West Virginia to a 19-16 win. In 2011, West Virginia earned a comeback 21-20 win en route to an appearance in the Orange Bowl.
A year later, West Virginia joined the Big 12. Pitt left for the ACC in 2013 and the rivalry went on hiatus.
McMillon watched last year’s Pitt win from his dorm room at Florida. He took video on his phone of cornerback M.J. Devonshire’s fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown that gave the Panthers the victory.
Earlier this month he showed the video to Devonshire when it popped up as an anniversary mention on his social media timeline.
“Now that I’m actually able to play this game, it’s an awesome experience,” McMillon said.
For the second straight year, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had West Virginia’s fight song and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” blaring on loudspeakers during practices.
“We’re playing all West Virginia music. Every day. At all times,” McMillon said. “And making sure that it’s so annoying that whenever we get out there, we’re going to punch them in the mouth.”
West Virginia cornerback Beanie Bishop spent four seasons at Western Kentucky and mentions the “bad blood” between the Hilltoppers and Marshall when they were Conference USA rivals.
Last year he was at Minnesota when the Gophers beat Wisconsin on the road to retain possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
In a state without a professional sports team, Bishop learned that West Virginia's rivalry with Pittsburgh is a year-round topic for fans.
“If I go into stores and go get food, if I have my West Virginia stuff on, they’re like, ’let’s beat Pitt!” Bishop said. “That’s the main thing, even before the season started. That’s like the focus. People get very excited for the game."
While conference realignment has changed the college football landscape and forced some rivalries to cease, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are set to play six more times through 2032. Both coaches have indicated they’d like the game to be played every season.
For West Virginia coach Neal Brown, this game brings extra importance in keeping his job. Brown has a 23-26 record in his fifth season. He went 5-7 a year ago, but was retained on the same day that athletic director Wren Baker was hired in November. A win before a sellout crowd Saturday could give the Mountaineers momentum heading into their Big 12 home opener next week.
“This is heated, and we understand that,” Brown said. “This is one that’s been circled for a long time. It’s a great opportunity.”
Especially for quarterback Garrett Greene, who spent most of his first three seasons on the bench.
Greene attended high school near Florida State’s campus in Tallahassee, Florida. He knows all about the Seminoles’ history with schools such as Florida, Miami and Clemson.
His first start against Pittsburgh didn't require much studying about that rivalry, either.
“We don’t like them and they don’t like us,” Greene said. “We’re fired up for it.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll