MORGANTOWN — Having just whizzed past the 25th anniversary of my arrival in Morgantown and caught up in a 26th year that certainly qualifies as the most incredible of the quarter century spent here due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has played havoc with schedules and rosters for a year now, we thought it might be fitting to look back on the 10 most memorable moments, games or developments of the era.
We will not rank them by importance, which allows us to remain open with a far more pleasant moment from the Backyard Brawl than the 2009 upset loss to the Pitt Panthers in the Backyard Brawl, but rest assured, that is included.
HEADLINE: Famous Amos’ run
August 31, 1995
I had just arrived from New York, where I had covered the Yankees for three years and the time had come to put an end to a 30-year baseball writing career and settle into something less hectic but no less exciting.
And it couldn’t have started with anything less than the electricity generated by Amos Zereoue on his first carry as a redshirt freshman.
The Mountaineers were opening with Pitt at Pitt Stadium and Zereoue was an unknown redshirt freshman. Short and muscular, Zereoue began his career on the third play of the game when quarterback Chad Johnston, who had opened with a couple of passes, brought him into the action.
He turned and handed the ball to Zereoue, who scooted around the left end and was nothing but a rumor to the Pitt defense as he wound up in the end zone 69 yards away for a touchdown, his first step toward an NFL career.
“I told some people last week that nobody would know Amos Zereoue before Saturday but I have a funny feeling you all know him now,” Don Nehlen said after the game.
It was quite an announcement of his arrival.
“A chill went through my whole body. I went, like ‘Wow!’ that was big for me and my whole team,” Zereoue said.
Zereoue left WVU after three years as the first rusher in school history to reach 4,000 yards, his final total f being 4,058 yards having been surpassed by Avon Cobourne, Pat White and Noel Devine.
HEADLINE: The first Big East basketball game
Dec. 2, 1996
This was a long-awaited moment for WVU. While the Mountaineers had played Big East football for some time, they were finally accepted into the conference as a basketball member.
Their welcoming committee, as the first Big East game they ever played was in the Coliseum, was to face the intimidating No. 6 Georgetown Hoyas of John Thompson, a team that was led by future NBA great Allen Iverson.
A crowd of 15,193 jammed the Coliseum for what would turn out to be one of the most exciting games the building had ever seen with the unranked Mountaineers almost pulling off the upset.
The Gale Catlett Mountaineers led by eight points at the half and with 1:48 left in the game after guard Cyrus Jones hit two free throws they led by 10.
But you’ve heard this story before.
Iverson and Victor Page led Georgetown back, Iverson driving the length of the floor and hitting a running one-hander with 5.5 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
“What can you say but welcome to the Big East!” Thompson said after it was over.
As good as Iverson was with 22 points and 10 assists, he also had 7 turnovers and was outscored by WVU’s Seldon Jefferson with 26 points and Gordon Malone with 23.
HEADLINE: Quincy’s run
Oct. 2, 2003
West Virginia was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb to the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes on this night in the Orange Bowl, owning a 1-3 record, but they found a way to hang around even though they had not converted a third down play when they faced third and 13 with 2:23 to play at the Hurricanes’ 33.
Coach Rich Rodriguez called a screen pass from quarterback Rasheed Marshall to running back Quincy Wilson and so began a play that lives on in Mountaineer memory 18 years later.
Miami covered the play well but they didn’t count on the squat but powerful Wilson, out of Weir High, who rambled up the sideline, running through nose guard Vince Wilfork, a 300-pounder and then barreling over backward future NFL defensive back Brandon Meriweather and then hurdling him while he was on the ground on his way to the end zone.
No one expected any of that, yet Wilson said it was just another day at the office.
“If you watch my senior year, I was a second effort, keep going, you better bring five or six guys to bring me down type of guy,” Wilson said a number of years later. “Was it spectacular? I think the end of the run, whenever you run over a guy and jump over him, but I had done that against Syracuse. I had that all season
“I wore offensive linemen shoulder pad, so that should have been a dead giveaway.”
All WVU had to do after that was top Miami to pull off the 20-19 upset by Kellen Winslow, one of the great tight ends of all time, made a spectacular, one-handed leaping catch while falling backward on 4th and 13 to give Miami life and time to set up freshman Jon Peattie’s fifth field goal of the game to win it as time ran out.
HEADLINE: Big 12 shootout
September 29, 2012
If I told you that I was there when West Virginia beat Baylor, 70-63, you’d undoubtedly wonder who was the high scorer or how many 3s did they make, but this was a football game, not a basketball game.
It was West Virginia’s introduction to Big 12 football played at Mountaineer Field, outdoing even that first Big East basketball loss to Georgetown in overtime.
In truth, there has never been another football game like this one as both quarterbacks broke school records for passing yards, Geno Smith at West Virginia and Nick Florence at Baylor. Florence’s 581 yards broke the record held by his predecessor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, but he couldn’t outdo Smith.
Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s two more touchdown passes than incompletions in a 45 for 61 day.
His statistics weren’t any more impressive than his two top receivers, Stedman Bailey having 13 receptions for school records in yardage and touchdowns, 303 yards and 5 TDs including an 87-yard connection, while Tavon Austin caught a school record 14 passes for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“It did feel like one of those classic Texas shootouts,” said Smith after his first Big 12 game. “That’s kind of what the Big 12 is about.”
HEADLINE: The Final Four
In 2010, Bob Huggins had the team he wanted. It wasn’t the best team in the tournament but it had a certain magic that carried it through the Big East Tournament.
It was Da’Sean Butler in the role of Houdini, who kept making impossible escapes.
Three times in the Big East Tournament he hit game-winning shots in the closing seconds until WVU had the championship.
Then they went into the NCAAs and reached the Elite Eight but were up against a good John Calipari team featuring John Wall. Worse yet, they had to play without their point guard, Truck Bryant.
But fear not, this was the year and Bryant’s replacement, Joe Mazzulla, had the game of his life, scoring 17 points with three assists as the Mountaineers shocked the No. 2 Wildcats, 73-66.
So it was on to Indianapolis riding the crest of a huge wave with a loose team that seemed to be destiny’s darlings.
But destiny jilted them in the semifinal against Duke as the Blue Devils took control early behind Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, who scored 23 and 22 points, respectively.
Duke led by eight at the half and then, as WVU tried to ride Butler back into the game in the second half, it all came apart. Butler drove to the basket where his knee buckled under him and became torn apart.
In a scene for the ages, Huggins kneeled over his star, trying to console him, but there was no life left in the Mountaineers and they lost, 78-57, having to settle for a 31-win season, setting the school record.
HEADLINE: A baseball field and other facilities
On April 10, 2015, WVU played its first baseball game in the new 2,500-seat Monongalia County Ballpark and did so with the same flair the basketball team used to join the Big East and the football team used in joining the Big 12, winning a 6-5 thriller in 13 innings.
This gem of a ballpark, shared with the West Virginia Black Bears, changed the fortunes of baseball at WVU, leaving behind old and decrepit Hawley Field and was part of a huge facility upgrade on campus and off that is still going on, though slowed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Milan Puskar Center and Mountaineer Field have been completely modernized, decked out with huge video boards and improved bathrooms and concession stands while the team headquarters are now among the best in the business.
At the Coliseum the walkways were widened, bathrooms improved, concession stands modernized and the 50-year-old seats finally replaced. In addition, one of college basketball’s newest and best scoreboards debuted this year. And across from the Coliseum rose a basketball facility for the men and women that ranks up there with the best in the nation.
Men’s and women’s soccer teams were gifted Dick Dlesk Stadium and the women have a practice facility across the street from it and that certainly helped the women reach a national championship game.
But it hasn’t been just the two top sports and baseball that have benefitted from the building boom. Over the years the gymnastics, wrestling, track, swimming and diving and golf all have either gotten new building.
“I believe that facilities make a difference in our programs,” Lyons said a couple of years ago. “I will continue to believe that and push that. We’ll continue to move forward as much as we can in terms of the budget constraints.”
HEADLINE: Sugar, Sugar
The Sugar Bowl is played annually in New Orleans, or at least supposed to be but on January 2, 2006, the game was moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta because of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in the city.
So naturally, WVU’s opponent for the Sugar Bowl was the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs.
The No. 11 Mountaineers knew they were a match for them with quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton, who the next year would make history by becoming the first teammates to rush for 200 or more yards each in the same game, White gaining 220 and Slaton 215 in a 45-27 victory over Pitt.
WVU knew it would be a close game but when they rushed out to a 28-0 lead on two Slaton and two Darius Reynaud scores it looked like it would be a laugher.
That doesn’t usually happen with WVU, especially in bowl games and this would prove to be no exception.
It came down to WVU’s final drive, trying to run out the clock with a 38-35 lead.
But WVU found itself facing a fourth and six with less than two minutes to play. Rich Rodriguez sent out the punt team, but he sent them out there with trickery in mind, calling upon a fake punt they had worked on through the second half of the season for punter Phil Brady to run.
“I looked over to the sideline too late. If it weren’t for Marc Magro yelling ‘Hammer! Hammer!’ I would have punted the football. If you look at the clip on YouTube you can see I put my hands up hear my ear holes and take a few steps forward and probably gave it away to some people. I listened for what Magro was yelling,” Brady recently told MetroNews.
He took the ball and ran 10 yards to the Georgia 38, allowing the Mountaineers to run out the clock.
HEADLINE: A night in Blacksburg
November 20, 2002
These teams never did like each other very much and, in this game, it all bubbled over with emotion, the Mountaineers trying to hold on to a 21-16 lead in the fourth quarter against rival Virginia Tech.
Both teams had a shot at the Big East championship and Tech was threatening to pull it out late, only to have linebacker Grant Wiley and safety Brian King stop them twice on the goal line.
First the Mountaineers stopped Tech’s powerful running back Lee Suggs on three straight running plays inside the 1-yard line, the last coming from just inches away as Wiley broke through and made the game-saving tackle.
Then, with 62,000 screaming Hokie fans in the stands, Tech got back inside the 10.
With 12 seconds left, quarterback Bryan Randall rolled out and threw into the end zone, only to have Brian King step in for the interception to save the day.
“In the last five minutes I’ve never been so proud of a defense,” West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The crowd was pushing them. They had all the momentum.”
HEADLINE: The day the world ended
December 1, 2007
If you have read this far, you know what’s coming
Need more be said?
WVU was a 28.5-point favorite and playing at home. With a win they would go to the national championship game.
They lost. Pat White was injured, missing part of the game, but that wasn’t it.
It was one of those unexplainable happenings in sports.
And this time when it was over it wasn’t over for Rich Rodriguez shockingly resigned and left for Michigan.
HEADLINE: WVU beats Oklahoma in Fiesta Bowl
January 2, 2008
No one really thought the Mountaineers could bounce back, not in the midst of a coaching search, not off the Pitt loss, not with Oklahoma as the opponent in the Fiesta Bowl.
And not with good ol’ Bill Stewart as the interim coach.
But dang if he didn’t have the pregame speech to end all speeches, the “Leave No Doubt” speech. The team was out to prove itself and would not be denied, even with Steve Slaton being injured on his first carry and being done for the day.
Pat White and Noel Devine made up for it. White ran for 150 yards and threw for 176 and two touchdowns and Devine rushed for 104 yards and two more touchdowns, leading WVU to a stunning 48-28 victory.
In the post-game press conference, White pushed for the powers that be to hire Bill Stewart as the next coach and they did.
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