Mountaineer Moments in Adversity Part Five
The college football community at large may be surprised by this, but the West Virginia Mountaineers have accumulated 767 wins. Only 20 teams have gathered more. If we remove teams that no longer play FBS football, West Virginia is actually 15th all-time in win total. Even so, Mountaineer history is not replete with multiple ten-win seasons. In fact, they hit or exceeded that mark just nine times. As a result, even in some of their best seasons, West Virginia deals with a public perception of inferiority, just adding to the adversity WVU faces on a consistent basis. It may seem odd, then, that we include a ten-win season in our Mountaineer Moments in Adversity series. Nonetheless, that backdrop is the reason.
Undefeated but Unheralded
After suffering a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame after Major Harris’ injury to conclude the 1988 season, Head Coach Don Nehlen and the Mountaineers dealt with a string of disappointing seasons. Heading into the 1993 season, WVU averaged just six wins in its prior four seasons. During that span, they managed just two ties against a ranked team (and zero wins) in 11 tries.
The 1993 season began with two dominating wins over Eastern Michigan and Missouri sandwiching a very close 42-37 win over a Maryland team that finished that season just 2-9. West Virginia then squeaked out a one-point win over Virginia Tech to finally break into the top 25 with a four-and-zero start. They ripped off five more wins to remain undefeated through nine games.
Despite cruising to an undefeated start through nine games, however, the Mountaineers found themselves ranked just inside the top 10 (ranked ninth). They were undefeated but unheralded, and in-game ten they faced another of our Mountaineer moments in adversity. The faced not only public perception in a quest to gain national respect (not helped by the fledgling Big East conference), but they also played host to the fourth-ranked Miami Hurricanes.
The Mountaineers, to be sure, have a rough history against Miami. Going into the 1993 matchup, they lost five straight, with their most recent (only one prior) win coming in 1973, before Miami was, well, Miami.
Enter the Hurricanes
As was usual in the 90s, the Hurricanes traveled to West Virginia boasting one of the best defenses in the nation. Indeed, they surrendered just 11.5 points per game in their first nine games. They also fielded a top-30 offense that scored just enough to rely on the defense to win games. To be sure, nobody outside of West Virginia expected the Mountaineers’ undefeated season to continue.
West Virginia fans certainly were not deterred. Indeed, Milan Puskar Stadium held over 70,000 fans that day. This attendance record still stands today. In its third year of existence, then, the burgeoning Big East conference founds its footing, as the game took on national relevance in an era dominated by Notre Dame, Florida State, Nebraska, Florida, and a handful of others.
While Miami certainly built a reputation for physicality and toughness, the cold November day in Morgantown seemed to flip the script. We can recall images of Hurricane players huddled on benches warmed with electronics juxtaposed against a hungry Mountaineer team sporting short sleeves. That said, both teams played a gritty game. Indeed, the Mountaineers went into halftime with a three-to-zero lead.
Miami would twice take the lead in the second half, holding onto a 14-10 lead midway into the fourth quarter. After forcing a punt, however, West Virginia scored after an impressive kick return followed by a legendary scamper into the end zone by Robert Walker. Thus, they took a 17-14 lead with just over six minutes remaining. Ultimately, West Virginia held the lead and found itself on the winning side of a tough-fought game on the national stage.
Cementing an Image
Unfortunately, the Mountaineers still could not overcome the national press’ perception of them as second-class. Despite being one of just two undefeated teams eligible to play in the postseason, they were left out of the national championship discussion. That said, with their hard-nosed win over Miami, West Virginia certainly cemented an image of toughness. Milan Puskar is still ranked one of the toughest places to play. As yet another of those infamous Mountaineer moments in adversity, this was one of our favorites.