WVU’s History of Heartbreak
West Virginia’s crushing 11-10 loss in the NCAA Regional baseball tournament on a walk-off grand slam by Texas A&M’s Bryce Blaum was a sight of disappointment Mountaineer fans have witnessed before.
All fan bases go through moments of angst, and WVU’s has certainly seen its share of heartbreak over the decades.
1959, California 71, West Virginia 70 (basketball, NCAA Tournament championship game) – Hall of Famer Jerry West still calls it his biggest career disappointment. WVU held a 10-point first half lead, but the Golden Bears forged ahead late. Up one, Cal missed a free throw with two seconds left in Louisville’s Freedom Hall. West got the rebound, but he didn’t have enough time to get off a shot that could have lifted the Mountaineers (29-5) to the national title.
1960, New York University 82, West Virginia 81 overtime (basketball, NCAA Tournament second round) – Just like that, the Jerry West era was basically over (WVU did play and win a regional consolation game the next day, but again, it was a consolation game). The Mountaineers had defeated NYU by 29 points just a month earlier, but in the second round of the NCAA Regional in Charlotte, the Violets took WVU into overtime. The Mountaineers could score just four points in OT and fell to NYU by one ending the college career of the greatest West Virginia player ever.
1970, Pitt 36, West Virginia 35 (football) – With WVU’s Bob Gresham running past the Panthers for over 100 yards in the first half at Pitt Stadium, the 5-0 Mountaineers built up a 35-8 lead by the midway point in the Backyard Brawl. But Pitt didn’t punt in the second half, and it scored 28 unanswered points. It pulled ahead with a TD with 55 seconds left and then forced a fumble on WVU’s ensuing possession to seal the improbable comeback win.
1989, Pitt 31, West Virginia 31 tie (football) – It may go down as a tie, but for all Mountaineers, it was a loss. Coming off the 11-1 1988 season, WVU was 4-0 and ranked No. 9 heading into the ’89 Backyard Brawl. Pitt was good as well, coming to Morgantown with a 3-0 record and ranked No. 10. Behind the running and throwing of Major Harris, West Virginia pulled out to a 31-9 lead with less than 10 minutes to play. Suddenly, though, Pitt’s offense found life and WVU’s couldn’t chew up enough clock. Behind Grafton, West Virginia native Alex Van Pelt at QB, the Panthers scored 22 unanswered points in the final 9:20. A 42-yard field goal by Ed Frazier with one second left tied the game in what was in reality a loss for the Mountaineers.
1996, Miami 10, West Virginia 7 (football) – Known to all Mountaineers as simply “The blocked punt.” WVU was 7-0, No. 12 in the polls with the best defense in the country when it took a 7-3 lead into the final minute of play against the No. 25 Hurricanes at Mountaineer Field. But WVU’s David Saunders barely touched Miami’s punt-blocking extraordinaire Tremain Mack, who came off the edge and swatted aside Brian West’s punt. The Hurricanes picked up the bounding ball and handed it to Nate Brooks, who ran 20 yards for a touchdown to bring an eerie silence to a shocked stadium of 66,948.
1999, Virginia Tech 22, West Virginia 20 (football) – The Mountaineers, who lost quarterback Marc Bulger to injury in the season opener, were stumbling through what would be a 4-7 season. But they put up an incredible fight against No. 3 Virginia Tech late in the year. Leading 20-19 after a Brad Lewis to Khori Ivy TD pass with 1:15 left, WVU had the Hokies trapped at their own 38 with 36 seconds left. But eventual Heisman Trophy winner Michael Vick evaded West Virginia’s pass rush, sprinted around the edge and up the sideline for a 25-yard gain. Moments later VT’s Shane Graham drilled a 44-yard field goal to end WVU’s upset bid and keep the Hokies’ national championship dreams alive.
2005, Louisville 93, West Virginia 85 overtime (basketball, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight) – This loss wasn’t a last second blow but rather a 25-minute fall. WVU built up a 20-point first half lead at The Pit in Albuquerque in search of its first Final Four since 1959. No. 4 Louisville came clawing back in the second half to tie it at 77-77. The Mountaineers had a chance to pull it out at the end of regulation, but J.D. Collins’ potential game-winner was blocked. The Cards pulled away in OT.
2006, Texas 74, West Virginia 71 (basketball, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16) – Unlike the 2005 NCAA exit, the 2006 departure came in one swift blot, denying the Mountaineers a second straight trip to the Elite Eight. A three-pointer from the top of the key with five seconds left by WVU legend Kevin Pittsnogle tied the game at 71-71 in the Sweet 16 round at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Longhorns rushed the ball up, and Kenton Paulino hoisted up a leaner from 25 feet that found the bottom of the net and sent WVU’s senior class of Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Jo Herber, J.D. Collins and Patrick Beilein off in heartbreak.
2007, Pitt 13, West Virginia 9 (football) – This had nothing to do with the last-second variety of defeat, but just the ramifications of the loss. The Mountaineers were 10-2 and No. 2 in the land. They merely needed a win over 4-7 Pitt in the regular season finale to assure themselves of a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. But things went wrong for WVU from the beginning, including an injury to QB Pat White, and a West Virginia offense that been held to less than 31 points just once all season could only muster one first half touchdown.
2019, TCU 4699, West Virginia 4692 (rifle) – Led by 2016 Rio gold medalist Ginny Trasher, the Mountaineers had rolled through an undefeated regular season, shooting better than 4700 in 10 of their 13 matches. But with the NCAA Championships being competed in the WVU Coliseum, West Virginia stumbled out of the gate with a sub-par 2331 in the opening round smallbore. It couldn’t overtake TCU in the day two in air rifle and finished second to the Horned Frogs in the eight-team field.
Certainly there are other WVU outcomes that would fit into the heartbreaking category; these are 10 of the most infamous in school history.