As a lifelong Mountaineer fan, I have seen many games involving the WVU football team. As most fans of sports teams do, I have compiled a list of my all time favorite games.
Each game on this list represents a turning point in WVU’s football fortunes. Some marked the end of an era, some the beginning of an era, all are significant.
As with any list, there are games that could be included that are left off. I can think of a few off the top of my head.
This is a list of the 10 best games. In my opinion it is complete. Take a walk through the “Ten Best” WVU football games of all time.
The 1987 Sun Bowl saw Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers face Jimmy Johnson’s Oklahoma State Cowboys.
A freshman quarterback named Major Harris led WVU. The Oklahoma State offense was led by running back Thurman Thomas.
Thomas’s back up would also turn out to be a good running back, Barry Sanders.
The game came down to the fourth quarter, it appeared whoever owned the football at the end would win.
In the end, Thurman Thomas and his Cowboy teammates proved too much. While WVU lost this game 35-33, it set the tone for WVU’s first undefeated season in 1988.
WVU fans walked away from the loss with great expectations in Major Harris. Harris would not disappoint. Major will appear in this list again.
In one of the most exciting games in this storied rivalry, WVU outlasted Pitt 47-41. This game was uncharacteristic for “The Backyard Brawl.”
Defense, by both teams, was horrid. There was a total of 1,135 yards of offense generated by both teams in this game.
Ultimately, the game was decided when Chad Johnston found Zach Abrahams for a 60-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
I remember listening to this game on the radio, certain that WVU had lost another game to their arch rival. I can still close my eyes and hear Jack Fleming’s call on this play.
Jack Bicknell brought his fourth-ranked Boston College Eagles to Morgantown on Oct. 20, 1984. Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie was the quarterback. Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers were ranked 20th in the polls.
By halftime, Flutie and the Eagles were in command with a 20-6 lead. Nehlen’s answer in the second half was to blitz Flutie. The plan worked and the Mountaineers came back to take the lead 21-20.
Flutie had time for one more drive. It appeared Flutie might bring BC back when they moved the ball to the WVU 38 yard line. Fred Smalls would sack Flutie for an 11-yard loss on the next play.
Flutie threw two more passes that fell incomplete to end the Eagles’ chances.
Flutie had several negative remarks about the Mountaineers in the press leading up to the game. The Mountaineer football team would have the final word.
Flutie never beat WVU in his Boston College career.
WVU entered this game with a highly regarded offense led by Jeff Hostetler. Pitt entered the game with the No. 1 defense in the country.
Obviously, something was going to give. WVU found itself down by four, 21-17, in the fourth quarter.
Starting at their own 10-yard line, the Mountaineers marched 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The 14-play drive saw WVU run 13 times and completely manhandle Pitt’s vaunted defense.
Hostetler capped off the winning drive with a six-yard touchdown run. In Mountaineer football lore, this is “The Drive.”
Pitt brought Tony Dorsett and Matt Cavanaugh to Morgantown on Nov. 8, 1975.
Johnny Majors’ team was ranked 20th in the country at the start of the game. Bobby Bowden’s answer to Dorsett and Cavanaugh was Dan Kendra and Artie Owens.
The first half was all defense, as the game was scoreless at halftime. With the score tied at 14 and four seconds remaining on the game clock, WVU’s Bill McKenzie trotted onto the field to attempt a 38-yard field goal for the win.
McKenzie’s kick sailed through the uprights as time expired WVU won 17-14. This field goal is known as “The Kick” in Mountaineer football lore.
Bobby Bowden still calls this game one of the most exciting he has ever coached.
The No. 4-ranked Miami Hurricanes came to Morgantown on Nov. 20, 1993. Both teams entered the game with national title hopes, and the Big East Championship hanging on the outcome.
It was an exceptionally cold night in Morgantown. The November cold saw WVU burn the Hurricanes hopes 17-14.
Miami did not register a first down until the second quarter. Robert Walker’s 19-yard touchdown run sealed Miami’s fate with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter.
The 1993 season was the first for Big East football. WVU would go on to win the inaugural Big East Championship.
Louisville fans probably want to forget this game. WVU was down 17-0 at the half, and down 24-7 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter would see the dawn of the Pat White and Steve Slaton show in Morgantown. A twisted ankle caused starting quarterback Adam Bednarick to leave the game.
Pat White entered as his replacement. The rest, as they say, is history. Slaton would score five times in the fourth quarter and three overtime periods to lead the comeback, with the support of White.
The final saw WVU edge Louisville 46-44. With the improbable comeback, WVU would go on to win the Big East Championship, and Nokia Sugar Bowl.
Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions had reigned supreme over the Mountaineers for years.
With the exception of 1984 of course. Major Harris would erase the dominance on one afternoon in Morgantown.
“The play,” as it is called in Mountaineer lore, saw Harris forget the play when he came to the line of scrimmage. The entire offense went left and Harris went right.
It was of little consequence as Harris simply eluded the entire Penn State defense for a 26-yard touchdown run. Don Nehlen called it, “The prettiest run I’ve ever seen.”
WVU would win this game 51-30. Those 51 points represented the most ever scored against a Joe Paterno-led Penn State team.
WVU faced the Georgia Bulldogs in the Georgia Dome in the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl. Hurricane Katrina had misplaced the game from New Orleans. Georgia showed no respect for WVU’s football team.
In essence, Georgia was playing a home game as they faced the Mountaineers. It would prove little help to the Bulldogs. “Super” Steve Slaton broke Tony Dorsett’s record for yards in a Sugar Bowl, amassing 204 yards. Pat White was Pat White rushing for 77-yards and passing for 120-yards. Even Phil Brady, the punter, proved too fast for the Georgia defense.
Brady’s fake punt had him gaining 10-yards for a game clinching first down to secure the win. At the time, this win was he biggest in WVU’s football history. The WVU win silenced the talking heads that had been questioning the Big East’s automatic BCS bid.
Even the Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese breathed a sigh of relief with WVU’s win.
The 2008 Tostitios Fiesta Bowl saw WVU face Oklahoma. To say that WVU was an underdog is an understatement. ESPN showed a map of the United States. Each state was represent by either red for Oklahoma, or blue for West Virginia. One state, out of fifty, was blue. Of course, that one state was West Virginia.
WVU fans would prove prophetic on that night. The WVU football team as a whole played brilliantly. Too many players contributed too much to list one player as the reason for the win. WVU amassed 525-yards of offense, and WVU’s defense harassed the Oklahoma offense the entire game. In the most satisfying game in Mountaineer football history, WVU trounced Oklahoma. The final score was WVU-48, Oklahoma-28.
Bill Stewart had rallied the WVU football team in the wake of Rich Rodriguez’s defection to Michigan. This game defines WVU football. Toni Caridi stated it best, “It’s a great night to be a Mountaineer, wherever you are.”