It was the year Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, the world lost John Candy, Seinfeld ruled the airwaves and America watched a white Ford Bronco pursued by the police down a California freeway.
Life really was like a box of chocolates, as "Forest Gump" reminded us in the biggest movie of the year.
In 1994, Nebraska was the big story in college football, but in Piscataway, New Jersey, the Rutgers campus was buzzing about their newly-renovated stadium, and their star tight end Marco Battaglia, who was a legitimate All-American candidate.
The year began with Rutgers easily handling a far-inferior Kent State squad in the season opener, but the coaching staff, team and fans knew that the real tests would come in the following four weeks as the Scarlet Knights would face West Virginia, Syracuse, Penn State and Miami.
Many wondered how the Knights would fair, as all four games against those opponents had been losses in the 1993 season, when RU posed a dismal 4-7-0 record (1-6 against Big East rivals).
On September 10th, 1994, West Virginia came into town with a 1-1 record, having lost their opener to Nebraska (who would go on to be the National Champs), and followed that up with a victory over Ball State. WVU had dominated the series between the two teams, having won 12 of 14 games against RU since the Knights had joined Division-I football. West Virginia was the defending Big East champs, and had throttled the Scarlet Knights 55-22 the previous year.
There wasn't much to make the 31,624 fans who turned out that warm autumn day think differently, as the Scarlet Knights struggled to get anything going offensively. While West Virginia quarterback Eric Boykin had a good day statistically (24-of-37 for 233 yards), the Rutgers defense kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone in the first two quarters, and despite the dismal offensive showing the Scarlet Knights were fortunate to only be trailing 6-0 at the half.
In the second half, the Knights finally put things together behind the play of starting quarterback Ray Lucas. Spreading his 7 completions in the game to five different receivers, Lucas (7-for-15 for 107 yards) threw just one touchdown, a four-yard scoring strike to third-string tight end Jason Curry. Even Battaglia could only collect 3 passes, enough to make him the Scarlet Knights' leading receiver in the game.
With just 8 first downs for the entire game, 190 total offensive yards and a mere 22:23 in time of possession for the Knights, the true star of the game was the Rutgers defense. While they relinquished 366 yards to the Mountaineers, the defense—under the direction of Coordinator John Gutekunst—kept West Virginia out of the end zone when it counted most.
The Knights collected 3 sacks in the game, kept Mountaineers' leading rusher Robert Walker (20 attempts for 55 total yards) in check and collected two turnovers.
In the third quarter, Walker coughed up the ball and Rutgers recovered the fumble at the Mountaineers' 35-yard line. The Knights then went on a nine-play drive that ended in Lucas' 4-yard touchdown pass to Curry, giving them a 7-6 lead.
While the Mountaineers ripped the Rutgers secondary (coached by Steve Spagnuolo) for 26 receptions and 253 yards in the game, it was linebacker Alcides Catanho who broke the Mountaineers' backs on the very next offensive play from scrimmage following the ensuing kickoff.
Quarterback Eric Boykin attempted to start West Virginia's next drive with a seemingly innocent pass in the flat. It ended up being the biggest play of the game as Catanho picked off the pass and rumbled 24 yards for a touchdown. For Catanho—who went on to play 27 games in the NFL—it was the biggest moment in his college career.
The fourth quarter began with Rutgers protecting an eight-point lead, which was extended to 11 when kicker Eddie Duborg split the uprights with a 34-yard field goal.
But the Mountaineers, who had no quit in them, finally scored their lone touchdown of the game with less than two minutes remaining, and elected to go for the two-point conversion. Again it was the Scarlet Knights' defense that came up with the big play when linebacker Rusty Schwartz knocked down the pass attempt that would have cut the deficit to three points.
Out of options, the Mountaineers were forced to attempt an onside kick, but Battaglia made the kickoff recovery and all that was left for the Scarlet Knights to do was run out the clock on their 17-12 victory.
"I like this team," said head coach Doug Graber after the game. "I like its character." In a reverse foreshadowing to this year's news of Greg Schiano leaving the Scarlet Knights for the NFL, Graber had come to Rutgers in 1990 after a stint as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He later went on to coach in NFL Europe and then joined the coaching staff with the New York Jets.
Battaglia—an All-American in 1995—went onto an NFL career with five different teams, while quarterback Lucas now serves as the analyst for Rutgers' radio broadcasts after a seven-year NFL career.
The significance of this game cannot be overlooked. In beating West Virginia, Coach Graber accomplished something that neither of his successors (Terry Shea and Greg Schiano) could do, and something that the Scarlet Knights haven't done since that 1994 victory.
To date, the Mountaineers own the series with a 33-4-2 record against Rutgers, and have won the last 17 meetings between the two teams. With West Virginia leaving the Big East, the 1994 defeat of the Mountaineers is something Rutgers fans may not see again for a long time.