The hype machine was working overtime for this one. The Mountaineers were a little miffed at some of the comments Virginia Tech players made in 1996 after Tech's 31-14 victory in Blacksburg.
Hokie coach Frank Beamer kicked off his postgame news conference by talking about how defensive end Cornell Brown outplayed West Virginia’s Butkus Award candidate Canute Curtis. Tech offensive tackle Jay Hagood added that playing against Curtis was like practicing against Brown, “except at a slower speed.”
West Virginia defensive linemen Henry Slay put in his two cents.
“They’re dirty,” Slay admitted a few days before the Hokies made their return trip to Morgantown. “They’re the kind of guys that if your back is turned, they’ll put you to the ground.”
The two teams had two weeks to trade barbs, which was more than enough time to turn a simmer into a boil.
“This is the most excited I’ve ever been to play a football game,” said the usually unexcitable Marc Bulger. “I love playing in home in front of all these fans.”
Veteran reporter Mickey Furfari got caught up in the excitement, writing that the 1997 West Virginia-Virginia Tech game was shaping up as “one of the biggest battles ever waged at Mountaineer Field.”
The Tribune-Review’s Rich Emert took a more measured approach in his game preview after more closely analyzing the two team’s records. He correctly pointed out that the 19th-ranked Hokies owned wins over 0-7 Rutgers, 5-3 Syracuse, 2-5 Temple, 1-6 Arkansas State and 2-5 Boston College. Tech’s loss was to the other Miami – Miami, Ohio, 24-17.
West Virginia, too, was a little light on quality wins. The Mountaineers topped 5-2 Marshall, 1-5 East Carolina, 2-4 Miami (the real one), 0-7 Rutgers and 2-5 Maryland. West Virginia’s loss was to 2-5 BC.
Still, any time the Mountaineers and the Hokies get together it’s like putting two ill-tempered dogs in the same room.
The Mountaineers used a 24-point second quarter to take a 27-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Bulger threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Foreman, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, and handed off to Amos Zereoue for a 2-yard score in a six-minute span that turned a 7-3 deficit into a 24-7 lead. Jay Taylor wrapped up the first half scoring with a 20-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
Later, Tech got a meaningless touchdown with 1:04 left in the game to make the final score 30-17, West Virginia.
Zereoue ran for 153 yards and Bulger passed for 217 yards against a Tech defense that had completely shut down West Virginia’s offense in a blowout wins in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
Nehlen called the 13-point victory over Tech “one of the best performances” in his 18 years as head coach at WVU.
“We’ve had some nice wins around here, but this one ranks up there among the finest,” Nehlen said.