- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said yesterday he doesn’t expect to discipline football coach Frank Beamer for slapping a player on the helmet during the Hokies’ 28-7 loss to West Virginia.

“The administration and I agree that this single incident is not reflective of how Frank has conducted business throughout his coaching career,” Weaver said in a statement.

Beamer slapped receiver Ernest Wilford on the sideline during a heated argument. He apologized after the game Wednesday night.

“There is no one I respect more in my football program than Ernest Wilford,” Beamer said in the statement. “I should have shown him better respect. It came at a very frustrating time for all of us, but that still does not excuse my actions.”

Wilford, a senior, said he accepted the apology. “I respect him as a man, I respect him as a coach. Now it’s time to move on and regroup.”

Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1 Big East) fell behind by 14 points early and never crossed midfield in the second half en route to its worst defeat since a 38-7 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov.3, 2001. The Hokies, which came into the game as the least-penalized team in the conference, were flagged 13 times for 116 yards.

The Hokies play No.2 Miami on Nov.1.

West Virginia’s shockingly one-sided victory ignited much celebration in Morgantown, W.Va. — celebration that spilled out into the streets.

Students celebrating the upset set more than 100 fires in the streets, but most were doused within minutes, with some requiring only a fire extinguisher, Mayor Ron Justice said.

A massive citywide cleanup in the days before Wednesday night’s nationally televised game left most revelers with little to burn, said Justice, who watched some fans trying to light a pile of empty beer boxes.

“They didn’t have much at their disposal,” he said. “Our situations last night could have been much worse.”

Crews removed 20 dump truck loads of furniture and debris from the porches and yards of student rental housing earlier this week, then went through town again Wednesday emptying Dumpsters, Justice said.

Fires were contained before they got out of control, traffic through the student-dominated Sunnyside neighborhood kept flowing, and law breakers were identified and arrested, he said.

“I was out, so I saw it all,” Justice said. “I think we were very successful.”

Both city and WVU officials say they plan to study videotapes and photographs of the celebratory rioting and will pursue charges against people they can identify.

“If there are students in the pictures, and I’m sure there will be, they’ll be hearing from our student affairs office and will be disciplined accordingly,” WVU spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said.

Fire Chief Dave Fetty said his firefighters took photographs of fans who accosted them and will share them with police.

“There will be some surprised students, I imagine,” he said.

Earlier this month, WVU disciplined three students who participated in similar post-game mayhem after the Mountaineers’ 22-20 loss to No.2 Miami, Lofstead said. One was expelled, another is facing expulsion and a third is on what the school calls deferred suspension, meaning he is one infraction away from expulsion.

Fetty said the fires Wednesday night were smaller but more abundant, and fans were more unruly than he’s ever seen, keeping firefighters busy until 6 a.m. yesterday.

“They did not quit,” he said. “They are a tenacious bunch.

“I didn’t realize how many bosses I had,” Fetty added. “It seemed like every other student up there reminded me they paid my salary.”

As the game wound down, fans in the crowd of 56,319 began streaming onto Mountaineer Field with the intention of tearing down the goal posts — a practice as old as bonfires among die-hard fans.

Police used pepper spray to hold them back, and after coach Rich Rodriguez pleaded with them to depart, the field cleared quickly. But some students said anger about the pepper spray helped fuel the fire-starting.

“I was standing on the side cheering for West Virginia and the next thing you know, there’s a cloud of pepper spray, and I’m throwing up,” said Jim Jay, a junior journalism major from Richmond.

“As long as no one’s getting hurt, I think they should leave people alone,” he said. “People are out having fun and celebrating. No one’s trying to hurt anybody.”

Bill Case, a spokesman for WVU’s Ruby Memorial Hospital, said staff treated several people for pepper spray exposure and ankle injuries, but no one was seriously hurt. The hospital also admitted eight people with some form of substance abuse problem, either alcohol- or drug-related.

Police Sgt. Mike Lantz said several firefighters and police officers were hit with rocks and bottles, and one student was charged with battery after punching an officer who tried to take his drink.

About 20 other people were charged with setting fires, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

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