By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Consider this a warning, not a prediction.
West Virginia University returns to work on Monday to prepare for Saturday’s game against James Madison, a game many consider a walkover of a FCS school for the nation’s No. 9 football team.
Remember, it isn’t a home game, being played at Fed-Ex Stadium near Washington, D.C., and there won’t be 60,000 WVU fans there. It isn’t a national TV game, isn’t a Big 12 game. It is an important game, but do you really know that when you are 18 or 21 years old and still have memories of 70 points against Clemson and 69 against Marshall clanging around inside your head.
See, upsets happen.
You can’t explain them, really, but they happen. Big upsets.
Make that BIG UPSETS.
Make that Appalachian State winning at Michigan in 2007. Make that Centre College winning …
You probably don’t know the school or the story of Centre College’s “Praying Colonels” and how they upset mighty Harvard — yes, Harvard.
The world was different in 1921.
It is 91 years later and this game is still remembered. That’s how big it was, many believing it was “The Upset of Century” in the 20th century. Who’s to argue.
Centre had 300 students, nestled in the hills of Kentucky near Lexington.
It was Oct. 29, 1921, to be exact and Harvard had won 17 of its last 19 games with two ties, no defeats. One of the victories was the previous season, 34-13, over Centre, but there is a story that goes with it.
Centre actually led at halftime, 14-7, and when it ended the Harvard captain had offered the game ball to Centre’s quarterback Bo McMillin, only to have McMillin decline the gift and promise: “We be back next year to take it home with us.”
The next year, with 45,000 people in the stands, it was scoreless at the half. According to the legend as it’s told at Centre, All-American blocking back Red Roberts told McMillin “it’s time to score, ride my hump” and that was just what McMillin did to the game’s only score.
It was a stunning loss for Harvard, Centre being the first school from outside the East to beat one of the Ivy League’s “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
In Danville, students painted what came to be known as “impossible formula” C6H0 on everything in sight, including a few cows. One such sign still remains in the original paint on the side of the Centre post office.
So this upset thing is nothing new … and yes they crop up big time on occasion, as it was when Appalachian State, playing a new, wide-open style of football, beat Michigan in the Big House, 34-32, the victory saved when Corey Lynch blocked the field goal, scooped it up and ran 52 yards to the Michigan 18 as the clock ran out and the fans ran out onto the field.
Lonnie Galloway was there. You might remember him. He came from Appalachian State, where he had coached in that game, to Bill Stewart’s staff at WVU and was supposed to be on Dana Holgorsen’s staff until he left for another job for personal reasons.
A couple of years ago, right before WVU played Liberty, Galloway talked about that game, reminding everyone it may not have been as big an upset as pictured.
“When we went into the Michigan game we were coming off two national championships and were picked to be No. 1 again,” Galloway recalled. “We had four players off the teams I coached there in three years who are now in the NFL.”
This is important to note, for Holgorsen will remind his team this year that FSC teams have talented players, teams like JMU.
“They have a few less scholarships, but they probably have the same amount of people on their team,” Holgorsen said during his early-week press conference last week. “They can break their scholarships up, so they still have a good bit of kids on their team and playing with the same numbers.
“They’re playing with 20 less scholarships, but across the board playing with as many people as we do. They’re quality. We’re going to talk about it a bunch next week, but this same team beat Virginia Tech a couple of years ago. That pretty much sums it up.”
It was as Galloway put it when he spoke of that game at Michigan.
“We went in there thinking we’ll go in there and see what happens. We knew we had the players,” Galloway said. “Watching them on tape we saw some things we thought could work against them. After Dexter (Jackson) caught that pass and went 60 yards, we knew we could play with them.”
They had players and they had coaches who knew what to do with them, just as does JMU. Its coach, Mickey Matthews, has been there 13 years and is 98-61 and owns a national championship at the FCS level, won as recently as 2004.
Again, Holgorsen doesn’t go in thinking that because a coach is at a lower level he has an advantage.
“I think there are good football coaches everywhere. I don’t know if the schemes are that drastically different. What Shannon (Dawson) and I did was basically the same job for a couple of years; mine just happened to be at Houston and his was at Stephen F. Austin,” Holgorsen noted. “It’s the same type of football; we’re doing the same thing and coaching the same way. There are a whole bunch of good coaches in Division II and Division III.”
And so, should WVU win this game and win it handily?
But if the Mountaineers don’t, remember, you were warned.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow hi on Twitter @bhertzel.