With the announcement this morning of the resumption of the Virginia Tech series in 2021, I thought it would be interesting to review some of the more memorable West Virginia-Virginia Tech football games through the years, dating back to when the two schools first began playing in 1912.
For many years, Pitt was always the No. 1 target in the gun sights of Mountaineer fans, but that changed in the early 1990s when Frank Beamer got things rolling in Blacksburg. By the end of the decade, many West Virginia fans considered Virginia Tech to be Public Enemy No. 1, simply because the Hokies had a far better football program than Pitt, and also because WVU-Tech games seemed to carry more significance nationally.
Whatever side of the fence you stand on, West Virginia-Virginia Tech games have ALWAYS captured the interest and attention of local grid observers, so, without further delay, here are my 10 most interesting West Virginia-Virginia Tech football games through the years:10. 1975 (10-7, WVU win)
West Virginia needed its defense to win this one. Bobby Bowden’s offense turned the ball over five times, leaving the sixth-year coach nearly speechless afterward (an amazing feat for anyone who knows the personable coach). Bowden labeled Greg Anderson and Bill McKenzie the game’s two heroes, Anderson for returning a Tech punt 61 yards to set up West Virginia’s only touchdown, and McKenzie for kicking a 20-yard field goal and converting the PAT to provide the game's deciding points. For McKenzie, a walk-on kicker from Warwood, W.Va., who later earned fame for his game-winning field goal against Pitt, it was the first field goal of his young career and the first by a WVU kicker that season. Tech had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal with the ball at the WVU 25 with less than three minutes remaining, but Hokie coach Jimmy Sharpe opted to go for it on fourth down and inches. West Virginia linebacker Ray Marshall knifed through to stop Tech’s Roscoe Coles behind the line of scrimmage and the Mountaineers held on for an important home victory on the way to a Peach Bowl bid in Atlanta later that year. West Virginia’s triumph also snapped Virginia Tech’s five-game winning streak that season.9. 1979 (34-23, WVU win)
Doing its best Keystone Kops imitation, West Virginia gave Virginia Tech 21 points in a span of 51 seconds and trailed the Hokies 23-6 at halftime. “We looked like a bunch of eighth graders out there,” West Virginia quarterback Oliver Luck said afterward. Then, following the halftime break, the Mountaineers caught fire, Luck hooking up with Cedric Thomas for a 25-yard touchdown pass and then calling his own number for a 13-yard TD run that led to four unanswered WVU scores and a 34-23 victory. Luck found Darrell Miller for a 27-yard touchdown pass for West Virginia’s go-ahead TD, and then backup running back Eldridge Dixon iced it with a 21-yard jaunt with two minutes remaining. 8. 1958 (21-20, WVU win)
In what could have been a prelude to the 1979 game, this 1958 WVU-Virginia Tech contest in the Tobacco Bowl at Richmond, Va., featured three Mountaineer fumbles in the first 12 minutes of the game that helped the Hokies gain a 20-8 lead. But WVU quarterback Dick Longfellow engineered an 83-yard drive that got the Mountaineers into the end zone right before the half and WVU scored once again to overtake Tech. Afterward, the Hokies bitterly complained about what they said was an illegal two-point conversion play West Virginia used on its opening score that turned out to be the deciding points in the game. On the controversial play, Longfellow stumbled and dodged his way past a couple of Tech tacklers before flicking the conversion pass to Noel Whipkey, who was standing wide open in the end zone. Tech said Whipkey was an ineligible receiver, the refs said he wasn’t, and West Virginia’s 26-game Southern Conference winning streak remained intact. 7. 1991 (20-14, VT win)
A weather delay and a goal line fumble turned out to be West Virginia’s undoing in this 20-14 Virginia Tech victory in Morgantown. After a 50-minute lightning delay that sent both teams to the locker room and spectators for cover underneath the bleachers, West Virginia had a chance to produce the game-winning score in the game’s waning moments, but Virginia Tech defensive end James Hargrove burst through the line and knocked the ball out of West Virginia quarterback Chris Gray’s hands at the Hokie 1 as he was attempting to give the ball to fullback Rodney Woodard. Tech recovered the fumble to secure a six point victory and its second consecutive triumph in Morgantown.6. 1974 (22-21, WVU win)
Running back Artie Owens and defensive back Marcus Mauney scored two long touchdowns, but the game came down to a pair of missed chip-shot field goals by Wayne Lattimer that likely saved West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden's job. Perhaps feeling the pressure that comes from his underachieving team’s 3-7 record, Bowden uncharacteristically got two unsportsmanlike penalties called on him during Tech’s final drive after WVU scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:28 to go. The 30 yards marched off against Bowden followed another 15-yard walk off that gave Tech great field position inside the Mountaineer 15. Lattimer’s first try at kicking the game-winning field goal was blocked by the Mountaineers, but the play was waved off because of a Hokie penalty. That gave Lattimer another crack at beating the Mountaineers with seven seconds remaining, but this time his kick sailed wide left of the post, thus likely saving Bowden’s job.5. 1989 (12-10, VT win)
West Virginia fans found out that Virginia Tech had some pretty good dancers in addition to playing some pretty stout defense. The Hokies snapped No. 9-rated West Virginia’s 15-game regular season winning streak with a stunning 12-10 victory at Mountaineer Field, and afterward celebrated their memorable accomplishment by getting their groove on the state emblem in the middle of the field for all to see. All 12 of Tech’s points came from freshman kicker Mickey Thomas, while the Hokie defense bottled up Heisman Trophy candidate Major Harris, limiting the quarterback to just 101 yards passing with two interceptions. Virginia Tech also sacked Harris three times. This loss came a week after West Virginia self-destructed in a 31-31 tie to Pitt in the Backyard Brawl.4. 1993 (14-13, WVU win)
West Virginia used some tough defense to edge Virginia Tech, 14-13, and snap Tech’s two-game winning streak at Mountaineer Field. The 25th-rated Mountaineers used a third-quarter safety and a fourth-and-goal touchdown plunge from fullback Rodney Woodard with 4:08 left to pull out a one point victory. Virginia Tech had a chance to win the game with 1:10 to go, but kicker Ryan Williams’ 44-yard try sailed right of the cross bar. Tech’s powerful ground attack came into the contest averaging 316 yards per game, but managed just 130 in this one, while West Virginia’s explosive offense committed five turnovers for the game. “If anyone would have told me we would have turned the ball over five times and won, I would have sent them off to the funny farm,” said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen. The victory propelled West Virginia to its second undefeated, untied regular season in a five-year period for Nehlen.3. 2002 (21-18, WVU win)
West Virginia kept its Big East championship hopes alive in Coach Rich Rodriguez’s second season on the sidelines for the Mountaineers with a thrilling, 21-18 triumph that wasn’t decided until Virginia Tech’s final possession of the game. West Virginia ran for 263 yards against Tech’s fifth-rated run defense, and Brian King intercepted Bryan Randall’s pass in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining after the D came up with an incredible goal line stand when the Hokies had the ball at the WVU 1. Four times Tech tried to muscle the football into the end zone and four times West Virginia’s defense held its ground. Twice, on second and fourth down, Lee Suggs, who broke an NCAA record earlier that evening by scoring a touchdown in his 24th straight game, tried to cross the goal line and both times he was denied. On his second down try, Suggs said he got his arm in but the officials didn’t agree. Later, when Randall threw his game ending pick, the television cameras caught Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer slamming down his headsets in disgust. Quincy Wilson ran for 125 yards on just 11 carries, including a pretty 42-yard jaunt late in the third quarter when Virginia Tech’s defensive line opened up like the parting of the Red Sea.2. 2003 (28-7 WVU win)
How memorable was this 28-7 victory for West Virginia? The Mountaineers produced a DVD of the game afterward and sold it for a hefty profit – that’s how big it was. Pepper spray was used to fend off students attempting to tear down the goal posts and the local police and fire departments spent a sleepless night tending to the mayhem that followed down in Sunnyside. WVU jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and never allowed the third-ranked Hokies to cross midfield in the second half. Tech’s only score came as a result of a cheap TD that was botched by the Big East officiating crew. During the waning moments of the game with the outcome already decided, WVU students chanted “ACC!” in reference to Virginia Tech’s decision to leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference at the end of the season. The victory over the third-ranked Hokies remains the highest-rated team West Virginia has ever defeated on the gridiron.1. 1999 (22-20 VT win)
Shayne Graham’s 44-yard field goal as time expired lifted Virginia Tech to a 22-20, come-from-behind victory over West Virginia to keep its national title hopes alive. Setting up Graham’s game-winning kick was freshman quarterback Michael Vick, who tight-roped his way past the entire Mountaineer defense for an amazing 26-yard run when he appeared to be bottled up along the sideline. West Virginia, with a 3-5 record heading into the game, was a 19-point underdog and was without its starting quarterback Marc Bulger for most of the second half when he went down with a thumb injury. However, backup Brad Lewis orchestrated a pair of late scoring drives, the second coming with less than two minutes to go when he hit Khori Ivy for an 18-yard touchdown on a third-and-13 play to give WVU a 20-19 lead. But WVU’s defense couldn’t hold as the Hokies executed their two-minute offense to perfection, silencing a raucous Mountaineer Field crowd.Check out Antonik's book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores and online at your favorite retailers. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.Send me your most memorable WVU-Virginia Tech games on Twitter.