WVU's Defense Stops Flutie
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
July 3, 2001
CHESTNUT HILL, MASS. (September 24, 1983) – For all the talk about the duel between two of that nation’s top quarterbacks, in the end it was an anonymous bunch of defensive linemen that decided which team was tops in the East.
That team turned out to be West Virginia following its 27-17 victory over No. 19-ranked Boston College at Alumni Stadium.
Those anonymous linemen were West Virginia's Rich Walters, Dave Oblak and Jim Merritts. The trio combined for seven tackles but more importantly, they occupied BC’s blockers which kept WVU's linebackers free to make plays.
"It’s amazing," said Mountaineer Coach Don Nehlen. "I thought we just played an average football game. But we came up with the big plays when we had to have them."
Before a sellout crowd of 32,000 that included House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a BC alumnus, and an ABC regionally televised audience, the West Virginia defense stopped Boston College three times deep in its own territory to improve to 4-0 on the season.
The game featured two of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. West Virginia entered the fray ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 44.7 points per game. BC was sixth with an average of 39.6 points per contest. Directing the two offenses were quarterbacks Jeff Hostetler of West Virginia and Doug Flutie of Boston College.
Hosteter guided the Mountaineers to easy wins over Ohio and Pacific before outdueling another brilliant quarterback in Maryland’s Boomer Esiason, 31-21 the week before.
The victory over the Terps advanced West Virginia to No. 8 in the UPI coaches poll, and set up an important early-season tilt against the undefeated Eagles.
Like Hostetler, Flutie kept scoreboard operators busy too. After a 45-12 blowout of Morgan State, Boston College downed Clemson, 31-16 and Rutgers, 42-22.
The West Virginia-Boston College game took top billing among college football games that weekend ahead of Nebraska-UCLA, Ohio State-Iowa, Washington-LSU, Auburn-Tennessee and Notre Dame-Miami.
West Virginia set the tone on the game’s opening kickoff when freshman linebacker West Turner, half brother of former WVU All-American Jim Braxton, absolutely annihilated Boston College kick returner and starting running back Troy Stratford.
Stratford took the football at his own five and started up field. Braxton and a swarm of Mountaineer defenders barreled down on him at full speed. Turner met Stratford head-on at the 15-yard line, separating the football from the ballcarrier. While Stratford lay helpless on the turf with a knee injury, WVU’s Cam Zopp fell on the ball deep in BC territory.
Three plays later, Hostetler hit tailback Tommy Gray on a quick slant for a 10-yard touchdown. Woodside’s extra point made it 7-0.
The Mountaineers forced BC to punt on its ensuing possession and regained the football at its own 26. This time WVU resorted to a gadget play to reach the end zone.
WVU lined up in punt formation following three unsuccessful plays. Up-back Ron Wolfley noticed the BC defense overloaded to the left. Instead of having the ball snapped to punter Steve Superick, Wolfley signaled for the football to be sent to him.
To the surprise of everyone in the stadium (including the West Virginia coaches), Wolfley took the football and raced 67 yards untouched to the end zone. Woodside added the conversion to give the Mountaineers a 14-0 lead with just 10:35 expired in the first quarter.
"I knew they were really overloaded to (our) left side. That’s why I called it," said Wolfley. "The last guy I saw was (Brian) Brennan. I said to myself, ‘Well, I’m a fullback. Should I try to run right through him?’ I faked instead, and that is the first move I put on a guy in open field since high school."
"I always give my punting team the option of calling the fake," Nehlen admitted. "Now my kids have to use commonsense. I’m not going to let them call it all the time and get us killed."
WVU tacked on three more on a Woodside 41-yard FG with 10 seconds left in the first quarter to make the margin 17-0.
Boston College finally got on the board when Brian Waldron hit a 33-yard field goal.
West Virginia answered BC’s score with its best offensive drive of the afternoon. The Mountaineers took the football from its own 20 and went the length of the field.
Hostetler completions to wide receiver Wayne Brown and tight end Rob Bennett placed the football at midfield before a Hostetler-to-King Harvey 34-yard pass pushed the football to the Eagle 12. Three plays later on third and 13, Nehlen called for a flanker reverse to Gary "Blue" Mullen. The receiver went untouched behind a wall of blockers all the way to the end zone.
Another Woodside conversion made it 24-3.
Boston College managed to put together a long drive of its own and scored with 2:36 left in the first half when backup fullback Brian Krystoforski plowed in from two yards out. Waldron’s PAT made it 24-10.
Though West Virginia held a commanding halftime lead, Boston College managed to move the football effectively on the Mountaineer defense. The Eagles piled up 226 total yards, including 224 through the air.
WVU, on the other hand, had 305 yards of total offense which came mostly on the ground (198 yards).
At the start of the second half, West Virginia kept the pressure on the Eagles with a time consuming 14-play drive. Although WVU didn’t get a touchdown, Woodside managed to push the lead back out to 17 points with a 22-yard field goal.
Boston College produced a short TD run by Krystoforski, his second of the game, but couldn’t get any closer to the Mountaineers.
Although Turner’s hit and Wolfley’s fake punt captured most of the post-game attention, the game’s real story was West Virginia’s three goal line stands.
The first came midway through the first quarter when the Mountaineers stopped the Eagles five times inside their own five-yard line. BC’s last attempt fell short when Eagle fullback Steve Strachan was thrown for a one-yard loss.
Near the end of the third quarter with West Virginia holding a 27-10 lead, the defense was at it again with Boston College holding the football in the shadow of the Mountaineer goal line. Four plays netted BC minus one yard and West Virginia took over at the four.
The final stop came late in the fourth quarter with WVU clinging to its 10-point lead.
"We gambled a little bit," admitted linebacker Ed Hughes, who made seven tackles to spark WVU’s defense. "Doug Flutie is the best quarterback we’ll see all year. You can blitz him every time and still not get to him."
Behind the masterful play of Flutie, Boston College took the football at its own 42 and moved deep into West Virginia territory. Completions to tight end Scott Gieselman and wide receiver Gerald Phelan brought the Eagles to the West Virginia 15. Another completion to Phelan on third down put the football at the WVU five with a fresh set of downs.
With Boston College poised to trim its deficit by six points, West Virginia’s Anthony "Whitey" Daniels stepped in front of a Flutie offering at the goal line and raced 15 yards up field. Daniels fumbled the football, but fortunately for WVU, Jim Merritts was able to pounce on it.
"I was supposed to be blitzing if the flow came my way," said Daniels. "But the flow went away from me so I dropped back into the backside hole. Flutie was getting a lot of pressure underneath and he broke away from the pressure. He didn’t see me in the hole. I caught the ball and was thinking six points, but I fumbled."
"I really don’t know how to explain what happened on those goal line plays," Flutie said. "West Virginia made good defensive penetration."
"Our defense made some great, great plays. I didn’t think we were very pretty. But we found a way to win," added Nehlen.
Boston College had one more chance to score with less than three minutes to go, but Flutie misfired three straight times at the WVU 28 to give up the ball on downs. With no BC timeouts remaining, West Virginia ran out the clock.
"We had some problems on offense but the defense took up the slack," Wolfley said. "A good team finds a way to win. I don’t want to hear anybody say that Boston College should have won this game. They didn’t win and we did." The Mountaineers piled up 328 yards on the ground. Wolfley led the way with 114 yards on 14 carries. Hostetler had 52 yards on 12 attempts.
The quarterback completed 12-of-20 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown.
"At times BC had eight people in pass coverage, which made it awfully difficult to throw," Hostetler noted.
Boston College gained most of its yards through the air with Flutie completing 23-of-51 passes for 418 yards. The junior was intercepted three times.
The Boston College rushing attack, minus top runner Troy Stratford and blocking back Bob Biestek, could muster just 87 yards on 29 carries.
West Virginia also lost its top runner Tommy Gray to a knee injury during the game.
"That was very frustrating. It was just crazy," offered Boston College Coach Jack Bicknell. "West Virginia stopped us inside the one both times, and then we still turn around have chances to win."
Following the win West Virginia climbed to No. 6 in the UPI poll behind Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Alabama and North Carolina and finished the season 9-3. Boston College also went 9-3 with wins coming later against Penn State and Alabama. The Eagles lost 19-18 to Notre Dame in the Liberty Bowl.
WV – Gray 10 pass from Hostetler (Woodside kick)
Rushing: WV – Wolfley 14-114, Hostetler 12-52, Randolph 10-46, Harvey 14-46, Gray 6-39, Mullen 3-31, Total 59-328; BC – Flutie 9-46, Bell 8-25, Strachan 7-10, Krystoforski 5-6, Total 29-87.
Passing: WV – Hostetler 12-20-170-0-1; BC – Flutie 23-51-418-3-0.
Receiving: WV – Bennett 4-56, Gray 2-16, Brown 2-30, Hollins 2-18, Harvey 1-34, Drewery 1-16, Total 12-170; BC – Gieselman 9-124, Phelan 6-145, Bell 3-57, Brennan 3-56, Strachan 1-16, McKenzie 1-20, Total 23-418.