One by one, West Virginia’s traditional Eastern football rivals have fallen by the wayside.
In 1992, the Mountaineers bid adieu to the Penn State series when the Nittany Lions needed to clear off their football slate to accommodate a move to the Big Ten.
In 2004, more conference shuffling ended the Boston College series when the Eagles departed for the Atlantic Coast Conference. A year later, the Virginia Tech series ended after 51 meetings when the Hokies also took off for Tobacco Road.
And now, three other WVU football regulars – Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers – are no longer on the docket.
When any of those games will be revived is anyone’s guess?
So that brings us to Maryland, the only longstanding regional rival still remaining on West Virginia’s football schedule. In fact, the Mountaineers are Maryland’s most frequent non-conference opponent, and the two schools will meet once again for the 49th time this Saturday in Morgantown.
Of West Virginia’s most historical grid foes (teams it has faced at least 20 times), Maryland is all that’s left – and the Terps are the only regional rival presently committed to playing West Virginia in the immediate future with games slated through the 2017 season.
That alone makes the Maryland game an important one for the Mountaineers.
But there are many, many other reasons why West Virginia-Maryland has been such a red-letter matchup for local college football fans.
For the most part, the games have been reasonably competitive and interesting, dating back to the war years when the two schools played to consecutive ties in 1944-45. West Virginia’s 16-14 victory over the Terps in 1948 helped propel the Mountaineers to a Sun Bowl appearance while a Terrapin triumph over WVU in College Park three years later helped them reach the Sugar Bowl in 1951.
After that, following Maryland’s departure from the Southern Conference to the ACC, the two schools played intermittently throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s until resuming an annual place on each other’s September schedule in 1980. Since then, there have been only two interruptions - 2008 and 2009 when the Terps wanted to work in a two-game series with Cal.
In the mid-1970s, when Jerry Claiborne was dominating the ACC with powerhouse Terrapin teams featuring players such as Randy White, Joe Campbell, Ed Fulton, Mark Manges, Lloyd Burress and running back Charlie Wysocki, getting a win over Maryland was considered a major chore.
In fact, two of West Virginia’s better victories of that period came against those teams in 1973 and 1977, both in College Park. The 1980s gave us some of the most memorable games in the series, especially when Don Nehlen was matching wits with Maryland coach Bobby Ross.
In 1980, Wysocki ran for 149 yards and scored both touchdowns to lead the Terps to a hard-fought, 14-11 victory over West Virginia at new Mountaineer Field. A year later, West Virginia returned the favor in College Park when a fumbled Maryland punt led to a late Mountaineer score in a 17-13 WVU victory (Nehlen later referred to the ‘81 win at Maryland as one of the key moments in his quest to turn around a losing West Virginia program).
More drama ensued in 1982.
New Terrapin coach Bobby Ross brought a feisty Maryland team to Morgantown that year and West Virginia had to fight tooth and nail until the final play of the game to pull out a 19-18 victory when Boomer Esiason’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete. That win came on the heels of West Virginia’s upset victory at Oklahoma in a game that put Mountaineer football back on the map.
Esiason and West Virginia quarterback Jeff Hostetler had another shootout in 1983 at Byrd Stadium in a nationally televised game that ended in West Virginia’s favor, 31-21. Following that, Maryland won the next four, upsetting the 18th-ranked Mountaineers on the final play in Morgantown in 1984 on a Jess Atkinson field goal, and winning the next two by much wider margins in 1985 and 1986.
A Maryland victory in 1987 seemed unlikely when West Virginia jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but the Terps fought back to take a 25-20 verdict in College Park behind the pinpoint passing of quarterback Dan Henning.
In 1989, 17th-ranked West Virginia needed a pair of second-half touchdowns to pull out a 14-10 win, and a frantic 20-point fourth quarter comeback led by backup quarterback Darren Studstill gave West Virginia an unexpected 34-33 victory over the Terps in Morgantown in 1992 - one of six wins West Virginia had in the series during an eight-season stretch from 1991-98.
Maryland got the upper hand when Coach Ralph Friedgen took over in 2001, the Fridge leading the Terps to four straight wins, including a blowout victory over the Mountaineers in the 2004 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Now, West Virginia has once again regained the edge by winning six in a row, including last year’s shootout in College Park, 37-31, to take a slight, 25-21-2 lead in the series.
“I’ve always enjoyed going over there over the years,” said West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck, who quarterbacked WVU to a win in College Park in 1981.
In addition to many memorable games throughout the years, the series has also been a compelling one because of the proximity of the two schools. Ask anyone living in the state’s Eastern Panhandle who West Virginia’s No. 1 rival is and they will quickly answer Maryland. There are approximately 25,000 WVU alums living in the Eastern Panhandle-Maryland-Northern Virginia region, making it one of the most fertile Mountaineer territories in the country.
And ask any WVU administrator which metropolitan area is tops on their list for targeting future students and they will instantly respond Washington, D.C. This year, about 2,000 WVU students will come from the Capital region, making D.C. one of the largest feeder areas for student enrollment to the University.
“Outside of just athletic competition, I can’t think of a region that is more important to us than the Baltimore-D.C.-Northern Virginia corridor, and I would actually include Delaware in that,” said Luck. “I would argue that Washington, D.C. is one of the two most important cities in the country - New York being the other.
“Given the proximity, given the student recruitment we have, given the number of alumni we have over there, given the media platform that exists, I think the game is very important,” Luck said.
So does WVU coach Dana Holgorsen, who also has a fairly large number of D.C. kids on his roster as well.
“We want to play regional games and this is one that is going to remain on the schedule because it does have so much meaning, and with that, we have a dozen or so guys from Maryland that are going to know a lot of their players and we go up against Maryland in recruiting a lot, so there is a lot of familiarity between the two programs,” said Holgorsen.
During the last 10 years the school has made a concerted effort to target Metropolitan D.C. for students, just recently placing a year-round student recruiter in Leesburg, Va. for quick access to the metro area. Holgorsen, too, has one of his assistant coaches (Daron Roberts) covering D.C. on a full-time basis for the football program.
“He is in a lot of high schools and there is a lot of interest,” said Holgorsen. “That’s why the Maryland game is big for us because we have 10-12 kids from Maryland that know a lot of those Maryland players.”
“Arguably, as far as a metropolitan area, it is the single most important one for us – more important than Western Pennsylvania,” Luck said. “That’s why we did the James Madison game last week, and why we are doing the BYU game over there in the future.”
Considering the importance of Washington, D.C. to West Virginia University, the Maryland game has always been looked upon very favorably here in Morgantown.
It is a game that is beneficial to both schools – West Virginia for the exposure the game provides to the D.C. area and Maryland for the economic impact of having a full stadium whenever the two schools meet in College Park. Plus, both schools compete in major athletic conferences, which help each other’s strength of schedule.
“I think it’s a great rivalry, especially at a time when college football rivalries are going to the wayside,” noted Roberts. “This may be one of the few survivors, so I think everyone is really excited about playing Maryland.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. 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.