The banner hanging over the wall at Mountaineer Field just behind Penn State’s bench said it all: “28 years, 2,800 tears, 28,000 beers.”
The last time West Virginia beat Penn State in 1955, Dwight Eisenhower was the president, Ronald Reagan was still a B-movie actor and Interstate highways were mostly two lanes. West Virginia fans, coaches and players had waited a long, long time for this one.
“Since we couldn’t beat them in the daytime, we figured we would give a night game a try,” joked WVU president Gordon Gee of the prime time start. Many times as Penn State’s winning streak grew, West Virginia lost games before it even took the field.
“Enough was enough,” said linebacker Fred Smalls. “We had to beat Penn State sometime. Penn State didn’t play the psychological thing on the young guys this year. Last year we were beaten in the locker room. We lost before we even went out onto the field.”
Offensive tackle Brian Jozwiak recalled Don Nehlen being the one who did the ‘psychological thing’ on the Mountaineers.
“The night before when we were out at Lakeview we would go into a room and all of our guys would bring their pillows and lie around the floor and watch a movie,” Jozwiak said. “This time it was a little different.
“Before the movie, Nehlen came in and walked up to a podium in the front of the room while all of the lights were still off. He just turned on a little light at the podium and he began to talk about how we were going to play the next night.”
Nehlen called out individual players describing how they were going to play the best games of their lives. He told the linemen to envision their blocks; envision 56 and Pat Randolph is going to get the football and run right behind Scottie Barrows for a touchdown.
“We went through a mental exercise that night that was so intense and he allowed us to literally see into the future,” Jozwiak said.
The intensity only increased when the team reached the stadium and saw the entire student section already full.
"They’re cheering and it was an atmosphere like no other atmosphere I had ever experienced,” Jozwiak said. “That game was the only game I had ever been associated with where no one sat down for four quarters. The place was incredible.”
So were the Mountaineers.
Leading 10-7 early in the third quarter, West Virginia got a big break when John Mozes pounced on Steve Smith’s fumble at the Penn State 39. Two runs moved the ball to the Nittany Lion 22, setting up the Randoplh run Nehlen had his team visualize the night before at the team hotel.
“I remember that Pat Randolph run because that was one of the few times that we ever did it when we called ‘bingo right,’ which was an unbalanced line to the right,” Nehlen said.
Barrows made the key block, wiping out the safety, to clear a path for Randolph down the far sideline.
“Nehlen’s brilliance as a coach in orchestrating all this was because everything he ever did, said, or gave to us as players was pre-calculated and pre-planned stuff,” Jozwiak said. “It wasn’t on a whim. He prepared and got his information and put it all together and we bought into it like a big bass.”
Penn State closed the score to 17-14, but Larry Holley sealed the deal when he intercepted a John Shaffer pass as the Lions were driving for a potential game-tying field goal.
With 35 seconds still left on the clock, students began pouring out onto the field and took over the north goal post. Joe Paterno waved off the remaining 35 seconds, jogged over to shake Nehlen’s hand, and got his team off the field.
Paterno, standing in front of the team equipment truck that also served as the site for his post-game press conference, seemed almost happy for the delirious West Virginia fans celebrating behind him.
“West Virginia waiting a long time for this and I sure wouldn’t want to put a wet blanket on it,” he said.
Paterno later paid a visit to West Virginia’s locker room to spend a little more time congratulating Nehlen.
“I can’t say enough about Joe Paterno,” remarked Nehlen after the game. “Joe Paterno is a class guy and a great football coach and to think that we beat a coach like Joe Paterno and a team like Penn State is utterly fantastic.”
Jozwiak and his mo-hawked teammate Jack Kessler decided to join the celebration going on down in Sunnyside after the game.
“It was like three in the morning and we can’t sleep so we went to see if we could find something to eat,” Jozwiak said. “Well, we ended up going down to Sunnyside and there were about 10,000 people down there. The National Guard was out. There was just a sea of people.
“I had PSU shaved on the side of my head and we go walking down there and we heard somebody yell, ‘There they are!’ All of the sudden everyone parted where all of those people were and it was like we were rock stars! That was a ride.”