- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Upsets, noisy stadiums, burning couches and Michael Vick — all are a few of the lasting memories of the West Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry.

Beamerball is making one final stop in Morgantown on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ third-longest running football rivalry of 33 years is ending. Virginia Tech’s move to the ACC last year and the subsequent addition of other teams to the Big East made it more difficult for the two schools to schedule each other.

“This will be the rubber match, so it will be nice to try to get on the top,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, who is 2-2 against the Hokies. “That will be an upset, for sure.”

The schools have met every year since 1973, when Bobby Bowden was the Mountaineers’ coach and Charlie Coffey was in his final season with the Hokies. West Virginia is 17-15 in that span against Virginia Tech.

Only West Virginia’s current series with Pitt that began in 1943 and with Syracuse in 1955 are longer. For Virginia Tech, the series’ length is surpassed by its 36-year run with Virginia — now a conference opponent.

West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong is optimistic the stoppage is only temporary.

“There’s a good relationship among the two schools, and there’s a desire to put together another series,” Pastilong said Tuesday.

Each team has dominated at one time or another. West Virginia did so early on, but Frank Beamer turned things around after becoming Hokies coach in 1987.

Over the past decade, the rivalry has stepped up in intensity because of close wins, upsets and what has been at stake. Including this year, it has involved a top 10 team six times, with national title chances being extended, postponed or vanquished.

Beamer takes away memories of his good friend, former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, and the often-unfriendly atmosphere at Mountaineer Field, which is sold out for Saturday’s game.

“I’d much rather play in a stadium that’s jumping, that’s moving,” Beamer said. “If you’ve got a lot of empty seats and no one’s moving, I find that’s when you have a hard time playing.”

In 1999, West Virginia led No. 3 Virginia Tech 20-19 after scoring two touchdowns in two minutes. But the Hokies had Vick.

On the game’s final drive, the redshirt freshman completed two passes, and the next play became part of series lore.

Vick went back to pass, couldn’t find an open receiver and took off toward the right sideline. It appeared he would step out of bounds 10 yards downfield. Instead, he darted ahead for 16 more to put Tech in field-goal range with 23 seconds left.

Shayne Graham’s 44-yarder as time expired won it. Virginia Tech went on to play for the national championship, losing to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2002, Jay Henry was a freshman linebacker who got left behind when the Mountaineers traveled to Blacksburg, Va. He watched the defense make two late stands, including Brian King’s interception of Bryan Randall in the end zone with 12 seconds left to preserve a 21-18 win.

That night, 75 couch-enhanced fires lit the night sky over a student-dominated neighborhood in Morgantown. Seven students eventually were expelled.

The city is taking no chances this year: Fire officials have ordered the removal of all upholstered furniture, debris and flammable objects from porches in neighborhoods with high student populations.

Morgantown led the nation in the number of intentional street fires between 1997 and 2003, with a total of 1,129 set.

“I remember … how crazy this place was. I kind of got my first taste,” Henry said. “We went downtown and saw everybody going nuts. That’s really the first time I got a taste of this rivalry and what it means to everybody.”

A year later in Morgantown, it was even crazier.

Early in the game, the referee ordered WVU to cease using artificial noisemakers through the speaker system to stir the fans. Spurred by the announcement, the sellout crowd got on its feet and never let up in the Mountaineers’ 28-7 win.

“That may have been the most electric crowd that I’ve seen since I’ve been here and even as a player,” Rodriguez said.

Third-ranked Virginia Tech was West Virginia’s highest-ranked victim. After the Mountaineers posted their first back-to-back wins in the series in a decade, more than 100 fires were set in Morgantown. Police used pepper spray to hold back fans rushing to tear down the goal posts.

West Virginia offensive lineman Dan Mozes and his roommate, defensive back Mike Lorello, have a running debate on which team’s stadium is louder. Lorello says it was Mountaineer Field in 2003. Mozes believes it was Lane Stadium in Blacksburg last year, when No. 6 West Virginia’s national title chances were dashed.

“Combine them both and they won’t be as loud as it will be this year, hopefully,” Mozes said.

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