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Fiesta Bowl Win Was the Biggest Ever

December 26, 2008
MICKEY FURFARI, FAN-FARE

MORGANTOWN - The vast majority of West Virginia University's 12 victories in 27 postseason football games fell under the heading of "upset."

This undoubtedly is the main reason that most of those unexpected bowl triumphs rank among the school's all-time greatest wins. The victims were favored and, in some cases, ranked among the nation's elite.

But it was in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz., that West Virginia shocked the nation with its greatest upset in school history.

That was the memorable 48-28 victory over No. 3-ranked Oklahoma. And most football folks thought the Sooners were really the country's finest team at that time.

It has to rank No. 1 among all WVU wins - period -regular season as well as postseason.

Patrick White led the charge against heavily favored Oklahoma and was voted the bowl's offensive MVP.

The junior quarterback rushed for 150 yards and added 176 yards passing. Big plays highlighted the stunning attack.

Those included fullback Owen Schmitt's 57-yard run for the first touchdown, White 79-yard scoring shot to Tito Gonzales, and touchdown runs of 17 and 65 yards by freshman tailback Noel Devine.

WVU finished with 349 yards rushing, including 108 by Devine filling in for injured Steve Slaton. The Mountaineers wound up with 525 yards in total offense while Oklahoma had 419.

Linebacker Reed Williams won the defensive MVP award with nine tackles, two for lost yardage, and a forced fumble.

It was WVU's third consecutive bowl triumph and second BCS win in three years. What's more, the team earned No. 6 final ranking in the major polls.

That victory had to be even greater than the one two years earlier in the Nokia Sugar Bowl at Atlanta on Jan. 2, 2006. No. 11 West Virginia shocked No. 8 Georgia, 38-35, before 74,458 fans in the Georgia Dome.

It was one of the biggest surprises of that bowl season. The game was moved from New Orleans because of devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

Commissioner Mike Tranghese said that was the biggest boost the Big East got after the ACC raided its ranks.

I considered that thrilling triumph as No. 1 among all of WVU's bowl victories until last year's over Oklahoma. It came in only the third 11-win season in school history and put the Mountaineers fifth in the final Associated Press poll.

Slaton, then a freshman, ran for a Sugar Bowl record of 204 yards and three scores and was voted the game's MVP.

WVU raced to a 28-0 lead in just over one quarter. But Georgia narrowed the gap to 31-21 at halftime. The Bulldogs got to within 31-28 in the third quarter, and each team tallied a touchdown in the final period.

But the Mountaineers needed to control the ball for the final five minutes. They made four first downs - thanks in part to a game-saving, most memorable fake punt by Phil Brady.

He ran for 10 yards on fourth-and-six to preserve WVU's first-ever victory in a Bowl Championship Series game..

Then came another significant victory a year later, West Virginia beating Georgia Tech by an identical 38-35 score in the Toyota Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007.

I'm not certain which team was favored. But the Mountaineers had to storm from behind an 18-point deficit to eke out the victory before a crowd of 67,714.

This time it was the aforementioned Patrick White who earned the MVP award. He rushed for 145 yards and passed for 131 while accounting for three touchdowns.

All-America Steve Slaton was limited by a thigh bruise.

Schmitt gained a career-high 109 yards rushing to help WVU win the Gator Bowl for the first time in six tries.

Pat McAfee's 25-yard field goal, which came in the second quarter, turned out to be a key in the tight contest, which also featured a pair of touchdown runs by Schmitt.

WVU scored the final 21 points in the third quarter. White passed 57 yards to Gonzales and 14 yards to Brandon Myles for touchdowns, then ran 15 yards on a keeper play for the game-winning score.

It was a 48-39 upset of Mississippi in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 28, 2000, at Nashville, Tenn.,, that ended an eight-game WVU bowl losing streak and sent retiring coach Don Nehlen out in style.

Underdog WVU exploded for a 35-9 halftime lead against Ole Miss, then fought off a second-half uprising by the Rebels.

Brad Lewis, the game's MVP, completed 15 of 21 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns. Antonio Brown had five receptions for 156 yards, while Avon Cobourne rushed for 125 yards.

The WVU defense, led by safety Shawn Hackett's 14 tackles, limited Ole Miss star Deuce McAllister to just 22 yards rushing.

It was one of the more cherished conquests by a Mountaineer team. There couldn't have been a better way to cap Hall of Famer Nehlen's outstanding 21-year career as head coach.

In all, he took Mountaineer teams to an even dozen bowls.

You had to go back all the way to New Year's Eve of 1984 for the previous bowl victory. WVU crushed favored Texas Christian 31-14 in the Houston Astrodome.

It remains among the most decisive of Mountaineer bowl victories. But more about that later in detail.

The one I enjoy recalling most is the 26-6 drubbing of Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl. The Gators were favored by 11 points. One touting service, figuring that Florida would win by an even bigger margin, tagged it "Lock of the Year."

But WVU was awesome that wet, 34-degree afternoon in Atlanta. It dominated the Gators from start to finish and became the first three-time winner of the Peach Bowl.

Nehlen, then in only his second year here, hailed that stunning success as "the finest" he had ever been associated with. He called it "our proudest hour" up to that juncture.

Tailback Mickey Walczak caught a record eight passes and scored two touchdowns. Place-kicker Paul Woodside booted a record four field goals. Quarterback Oliver Luck completed 14 of 23 passes for 107 yards and one score.

While WVU logged 301 yards in total offense, its defense limited Florida to a mere 105 yards - including a shocking minus-30 rushing.

Charley Pell, the Gators' head coach, was still so angry the following spring that he burned game films in a midfield ceremony. And Florida omitted information on that game from its 1982 media guide.

That 20-point winning margin was the largest among WVU's bowl victories until tied by last year's 20-point win in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 1969 team had made a similarly shocking impact on the Peach Bowl. "Sneak attack" might be fitting.

The Mountaineers caught favored South Carolina unaware and unprepared by secretly installing a wishbone offense.

It continually confused the Gamecocks, and WVU wound up winning 14-3 in the rain and mud.

Eddie Williams, a surprise starter at fullback in place of Jim Braxton, rushed for 208 yards on 35 carries - a school and bowl record.

Tailback Bob Gresham added 98 yards to become WVU's all-time single-season rushing leader at the time.

In all, the Mountaineers amassed 346 yards on the ground. Quarterback Mike Sherwood tried just two passes the entire game

Williams was honored as top offensive player and linebacker Carl Crennel as top defensive player.

South Carolina was limited to 64 yards rushing and 126 passing.

That victory gave WVU a 10-1 record, then the second best in school history. But the next morning Jim Carlen resigned to become head coach at Texas Tech

It was the Peach Bowl which produced still another memorable victory in 1975. Dan Kendra's 50-yard touchdown toss in the fourth quarter to Scott MacDonald, who was on a basketball scholarship, turned a 10-6 deficit into a 13-10 upset of favored North Carolina State on a muddy field.

Making that victory all the more satisfying was the fact it avenged a 49-13 loss to the Wolfpack in the 1972 Peach Bowl. And N.C. State's coach both years was Lou Holtz, now an ESPN football analyst.

But that win, like the one in '69, cost WVU its head coach. Bobby Bowden left to become a legend at Florida State.

Perhaps the most dazzling of these bowl performances came in the aforementioned 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl against TCU. The underdog Mountaineers piled up more than 500 yards in total offense en route to a smashing 31-14 romp.

The Hornet Frogs were supposed to have the blazing speed, but swift WVU made them look like slow-pokes

Kevin White performed like an All-America quarterback that night. He passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns and was voted the game's MVP.

White was so impressive that a Houston writer commented, "There isn't a quarterback in the Southwest Conference that's as good as this guy."

Willie Drewrey was the top pass-catcher with six for 152 yards and also excelled as a kick-returner. John Gay, Gary Mullen and Ron Wolfley caught TD passes.

TCU managed just 92 yards rushing.

All-America halfback Kenneth Davis netted just 19 yards before leaving the game after a bone-crushing tackle by Matt Smith.

WVU also was the underdog in two Sun Bowl victories - 7-6 over Texas Tech on Jan. 1, 1938, and 21-13 over Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) on Jan. 1, 1949.

Reserve halfback Davey Issac scored the lone TD in the '38 contest and Kelly Moan kicked the winning extra point. Halfback Harry (Flash) Clarke gained 132 of the team's 198 yards rushing.

That team, coached by Dr. Marshall "Little Sleepy" Glenn, finished the season with an 8-1-1 record.

Quarterback Jimmy Walthall directed Coach Dud DeGroot's winning attack in the Sun Bowl 11 years later. But halfback Jim Devonshire was the star, scoring two touchdowns and running for several big gains.

WVU also needed a rally to nip Kentucky 20-16 in the 1983 Hall of Fame Bowl on a cold night in Birmingham, Ala. But the Wildcats - not the Mountaineers - were the underdogs in that matchup.

Quarterback Jeff Hostetler, 0-for-10 passing the first half, completed 10 of 13 for 88 yards and two TDs in the second half.

Woodside kicked field goals of 39 and 23 yards. Tailback Tommy Gray rushed 32 times for 149 yards.

 
 

 

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