Top 15 In The Past 30 Years At WVU
By Cam Huffman
The Blue & Gold News is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and there have been a lot of memories made over the three decades that we have been bringing you the most comprehensive coverage of Mountaineer sports.
As we enter into a new and exciting era at Blue & Gold News, we thought it would be a great time to look back at some of the more memorable stories that we’ve brought to Mountaineer fans everywhere during the last 30 years.
So without further delay, here is a look at the 15 most memorable stories in the history of Blue & Gold News, which first published in 1988.
15. Goodbye Stew – There have been plenty of sad moments over the three decades Blue & Gold News has gone to print. There was the loss of Chris Gray in the terrorist attacks on New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. There was the vehicle accident that killed Danny Van Etten and plenty of season- and career-ending injuries along the way. But perhaps no news hit Mountaineer Nation quite as hard as the passing of Bill Stewart on May 21, 2012. Stew’, who led the Mountaineers to a 28-12 record in three+ seasons as head coach from 2008-10, had gone through a messy divorce from the WVU program when director of athletics Oliver Luck brought in Dana Holgorsen for what was supposed to be one season as offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach. Upset with the process, Stewart didn’t go down without a fight, and he ended up resigning on June 10, 2011, instead of serving as the lame duck head coach for one final season. Less than a year later, Stewart died of a heart attack while playing golf at Stonewall Resort. He was just 59 years old at the time of his death, and his passing left many Mountaineer fans sharing their favorite Stew’ stories. His “Leave No Doubt” motto, which was part of the speech he delivered prior to the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, is still a rallying cry for WVU fans everywhere.
14. A new hoops home – The Mountaineers certainly held a spot among the college basketball elite as members of the Southern Conference in the 1950s and 1960s, but when that league began to decline, so did WVU basketball. The Mountaineers made occasional NCAA Tournament appearances in the 1980s and ‘90s as members of the Atlantic 10 Conference, but they were not considered a major player in the world of college basketball any longer. That began to change in 1995 when West Virginia joined the Big East Conference as a full member, meaning that the Mountaineer basketball team could now compete in the same league as its football squad. Joining basketball powers like Georgetown and Syracuse helped put West Virginia hoops back on the national map and served WVU for the next 17 seasons
13. Beilein’s boys – The 2004-05 Mountaineer men’s basketball team, led by head coach John Beilein, was thought to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble when it took an 18-9 record to New York City for the Big East Tourney. But once Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey and company found their way inside Madison Square Garden, the magic began. WVU started off with a win over Providence that most felt moved the Mountaineers off the bubble and into the dance, but they weren’t finished yet. An upset victory over No. 7 Boston College, the tournament’s top seed, followed, and then Beilein’s club capped it off with a win over No. 19 Villanova that sent the Mountaineers to their first-ever Big East championship game. WVU fell short of a title, losing to Syracuse, but the magic continued in the NCAA Tournament. A 63-61 win over Creighton helped the Mountaineers find that confidence again, and they followed that up with an overtime win over Chris Paul and No. 5 Wake Forest. Back in the Sweet 16, WVU kept rolling, knocking off a Bobby Knight-coached Texas Tech squad to reach the Elite Eight. With the Final Four in its sights, WVU held a second-half lead over No. 4 Louisville, but a 93-85 overtime loss ended the magical run.
12. Just for kicks – West Virginia’s women’s soccer program has been an incredible story to follow throughout the history of Blue & Gold News. Fielding a team for the first time in 1996, head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown has taken the Mountaineers from a startup to one of the premier programs in all of college soccer. The team now plays in the 1,650-seat Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium and has found its way into the NCAA Tournament every year since 2000. The Mountaineers won Big East Tournament titles in 2007, 2010 and 2011 and Big 12 Tournament titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016. WVU has won the Big 12 regular season championship every year since joining the league in 2012, and this past season West Virginia reached the pinnacle when it played for a national title. Izzo-Brown, the only coach the program has ever known, has compiled a career record of 309-103-46.
11. Right on target – The WVU rifle team has made plenty of headlines during Blue & Gold News’ history. A major uproar resulted when the program was disbanded because of lack of funds in 2003, and it didn’t take long until private and state funds helped to get the squad, which had won 13 national titles, reinstated. WVU found its way back to the top of the food chain in 2009 when it won its first national championship since 1998, and from 2013 through 2017 the Mountaineers have won five straight titles to give WVU 19 in total. Although the rifle team doesn’t pack the stands like football and basketball, WVU faithful know and love the program, and the recognition it receives grows a little more with each national championship trophy it puts behind glass.
10. A football home – West Virginia had spent decades as a college football Independent – with brief stints in the Southern Conference and even the WVIAC – until the Mountaineers finally found a home in the new Big East Conference in 1991. WVU joined as a football-only member, along with Rutgers, Temple and Virginia Tech. West Virginia teamed with full members Miami, Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College for a strong football league on the East Coast. The league served the Mountaineers well until the 2000s, when greener pastures caused teams to look elsewhere and the Big East began to crumble.
9. Gone in the night – Rich Rodriguez had flirted with Alabama the year before, only to pledge his loyalty to his alma mater and remain at WVU. But before the sting of a loss to Pitt in the regular season finale – a defeat that cost the Mountaineers a shot at a national football title – had even worn off, reports surfaced that Rodriguez was again flirting with another of the college football bigwigs. On Dec. 17, 2007 Coach Rod turned the rumors into reality when he accepted the head coaching at Michigan. The messy exit included nasty accusations, lawsuits and plenty of hurt feelings as Mountaineer Nation struggled with the notion that one of its own had found the grass greener on the other side.
8. End of an era – West Virginia fans were still bemoaning a 31-27 loss to Syracuse that saw the Mountaineers blow a late lead to lose their third straight when head coach Don Nehlen dropped a bomb on Nov. 4, 2000. Nehlen, who had led West Virginia’s football program since the 1980 season and had been the only WVU head coach to roam the sidelines at new Mountaineer Field, announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. That brought out many emotions from loyal West Virginia fans, some of whom who had never known another coach. Nehlen’s club responded by going on a mission to send him out the right way. WVU won two of its final three regular season games to become bowl eligible, and it then went to work, capping the 21-year Nehlen era with a rare bowl victory in his final outing. The Mountaineer offense was clicking on all cylinders in the Music City Bowl against Ole Miss, and the WVU players were able to carry their coach off the field on their shoulders after a 49-38 triumph. Nehlen finished with a career record of 202-128-8 as a head coach at Bowling Green and West Virginia, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
7. Did you say 70? – Dana Holgorsen’s offense was good during his first season with the Mountaineers in 2011 – really, really good at times – but fans didn’t get a true feeling of just how explosive the Mountaineers could be until WVU met up with Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers rewrote the record books against the ACC champion Tigers, breaking eight team and individual bowl game records in a 70-33 blowout. The 70 points Holgorsen’s club posted were the most ever in a bowl game, while the 49 points in the first half also set a record. Geno Smith threw for six touchdowns, tying a record, and Tavon Austin became the fourth player to have four touchdown receptions in a bowl game. The victory capped a 10-3 season and gave the Mountaineers their third BCS Bowl title in seven seasons.
6. Lucky number 12? – With the Big East crumbling all around it, WVU found a new conference home in October of 2011 when the Big 12 voted to accept West Virginia and TCU as its newest members. The Mountaineers officially began play in their new league in 2012, bringing some major changes to WVU athletics. While the money was better than ever before and Mountaineer fans enjoyed battles with perennial powers like Texas and Oklahoma in football and Kansas in basketball, the travel was difficult, and many longtime rivals like Virginia Tech and Pitt had to be left off the schedule. Still, the move guaranteed WVU a spot at the table of the major players in college athletics, something it was not promised if it remained in the Big East, which split off itself with the remaining football schools forming the American Athletic Conference.
5. Leave no doubt – WVU football fans had gone through one of the most difficult months possible when West Virginia headed to University of Phoenix Stadium to face Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The 10-2 Mountaineers were poised for a spot in the BCS championship game after manhandling No. 20 Connecticut on Nov. 24, 2007. All that was needed to punch the ticket was a win over a 4-7 Pitt team, and the Mountaineers would be playing for a national title in New Orleans. An unfathomable 13-9 loss to the Panthers left WVU fans in shock, and when head coach Rich Rodriguez departed Morgantown in the middle of the night to take the job as head coach at Michigan a couple weeks later, the West Virginia faithful was sent into a frenzy. The Fiesta Bowl bid against the Sooners was almost an afterthought, as WVU fans contemplated what had happened with Rodriguez and who would lead their beloved Mountaineers next. Bill Stewart took over as interim coach to prepare WVU for its trip to Arizona, but most expected the Mountaineers to get blasted by a Sooner team that many believed was the best in the country. Stew’, though, stuck to the task at hand, and after an impassioned locker room speech before the game, his West Virginia squad went out and took it to No. 3 Oklahoma, winning 48-28 in a game that was never really close. As Mountaineer Nation celebrated the heroics of Pat White and Owen Schmitt in his final game in a WVU uniform, director of athletics Ed Pastilong gave Stewart a battlefield promotion to become Rodrigugez’s successor.
4. Perfect again – Don Nehlen enjoyed WVU’s perfect regular season in 1988 so much, he decided to do it again in 1993. While the ‘88 club came in with huge expectations, the ‘93 team wasn’t supposed to set the college football world on fire. In fact, the season was five weeks old before the Mountaineers even found themselves in the national polls. But with Notre Dame transfer Jake Kelchner sharing time at quarterback with Darren Studstill, WVU just kept winning. After running through the early portion of the schedule with a 3-0 record, WVU knocked off rival Virginia Tech to set up a non-conference showdown with No. 17 Louisville. A 36-34 win over the Cardinals in front of an ABC television audience made the college football world sit up and take notice, and the Mountaineers followed that up by knocking off another rival in Pitt and then blanking Syracuse 43-0 in the Carrier Dome. Once unranked WVU was knocking on the door of the top 10, and three weeks later the Mountaineers were 9-0 and ranked No. 9 in the land when No. 4 Miami paid a visit to Morgantown. In front of a crowd of 70,222, still the biggest crowd ever at Mountaineer Field, West Virginia upset the No. 4 Hurricanes 17-14. All that was left between Nehlen and another perfect season was a trip to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to face No. 11 Boston College. WVU fell behind early against the Eagles but came storming back in the fourth quarter to record another 17-14 victory and complete the perfect season. This time the Mountaineers did not get a shot at the national title, instead facing No. 8 Florida in the Sugar Bowl as a consolation prize. Steve Spurrier’s Gators ruined the party with a 41-7 thrashing, but it didn’t completely spoil the celebration of a season to remember.
3. How Sweet it is – WVU was teetering on the brink of college football irrelevancy in 2005, thanks to a Big East football league that had been left for dead when Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami all bolted for the ACC. Only West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt were really left as traditional college football powers in the reconfigured Big East, and the Panthers had fallen on some hard times. Louisville and South Florida were decent additions for the new-look Big East, but many in college football were beating the drum that the teams in the Big East didn’t belong on the same stage as those from the mighty SEC or Big 12. The Mountaineers’ only plan of action was to win and win a lot, and that’s exactly what they did in 2005, going 10-1 in the regular season and winning the conference title. Still, many didn’t want to give WVU any respect. The Mountaineers had lost their only solid non-conference test, falling 34-17 to No. 3 Virginia Tech. The only ranked team West Virginia beat was No. 19 Louisville, and that took a bit of luck and three overtimes. But when the Mountaineers met up with SEC champion Georgia in the Bulldogs’ backyard – Sugar Bowl was moved from New Orleans to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome because of Hurricane Katrina – the world took notice. Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt ran over, around and through the UGA defense on the way to a 38-35 victory, WVU’s first-ever BCS Bowl win. The triumph proved the Mountaineers belonged on a national stage and gave a glimmer of hope to the battered Big East
2. Not since 1959 – It had been more than 50 years since Jerry West took the Mountaineer basketball team to the NCAA championship game in 1959 when Bob Huggins put the Mountaineers back on the doorstep of a national title in 2010. After a magical run to WVU’s first-ever Big East Tournament championship, West Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed and quickly proved that the recognition was well deserved. Led by Da’Sean Butler’s almost nightly heroics, WVU easily dispatched of Morgan State in Buffalo to open the tournament and then beat a solid Missouri club to advance to the Sweet 16. Next up was Washington in Syracuse, and the Huskies couldn’t keep pace, either, setting up a showdown between the Mountaineers and top-seeded Kentucky, considered by some to be one of the best college basketball squads ever assembled. Mixing in some of John Beilein’s old 1-3-1 defense, WVU kept the Wildcats off balance all night and secured a monumental 73-66 upset to punch their first ticket to the Final Four in more than a half a century. A Butler knee injury hurt the Mountaineers’ chances against Duke in the national semifinal, and the season came to an end. But the magical 31-7 season won’t soon be forgotten in the Mountain State.
- A shot at the big prize – The Blue & Gold News was still in its infancy in 1988, but the ride that Greg Hunter and Bob Bucy went on that first football season was certainly a memorable one. In his ninth season at the helm of the Mountaineers, head coach Don Nehlen led WVU to its first-ever perfect regular season, capping off an 11-0 campaign with a win over Syracuse at Mountaineer Field. With wins over Penn State, No. 16 Pitt and the No. 14 Orangemen, just to name a few, the Mountaineers and explosive sophomore quarterback Major Harris caught the nation’s attention and earned the right to play for college football’s ultimate prize. No. 3 WVU met up with No. 1 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl with a national title on the line. An early injury to Major, though, doomed the Mountaineers’ best shot at glory, and the Irish and head coach Lou Holtz escaped Sun Devil Stadium with a 34-21 victory and a national championship.
This story was part of the recent issue of the Blue & Gold News. You can purchase a subscription to the Blue & Gold News magazine and the website, BlueGoldNews.com, at https://bluegoldnews.com/membership-account/membership-levels/