Stuck among the numerous games of the first week of the College Football Season is a little gem in Landover, Maryland. Actually it’s not really stuck in the middle of other games, it has its own primetime spot on Sunday night as Virginia Tech and West Virginia renew their rivalry…at least for the moment.
Virginia Tech and West Virginia haven’t played since 2005. When Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC the Hokies figured they had to navigate 8 conference games that were tougher than those in the Big East Conference. You can take the worst team in the ACC’s Coastal Division – at that time Duke – and they were still better than the Big East’s worst team, Rutgers.
Add in the fact that Virginia Tech annually schedules an FCS opponent and there were 9 spots on the schedule gone already. Virginia Tech could have made room for West Virginia. Instead, Virginia Tech has long had an unusual obsession with East Carolina, which has never made sense and will never make sense. So, if it is a choice between East Carolina and West Virginia, ECU wins. Don’t ask me why. Someone in Blacksburg knows I guess. Maybe it’s just that I hate East Carolina. While working at WVVA, the stupid Pirate Mascot kept jumping in my shot one year during the Pirates’ visit to Blacksburg so I literally grabbed him and told him that if he did it again, I was going to deck his ass. He kept his distance the rest of the day.
The game is a larger deal to those in the Southern part of West Virginia that it is in any other part of the Mountain State. It’s about an hour drive from Bluefield, WV to Blacksburg, and despite out-of-state tuition, Virginia Tech draws a decent amount of students from Southern West Virginia. In the mid 90s, the game took on special meaning for the border counties when WVU’s starting Quarterback was Chad Johnston, a native of Peterstown, WV which is literally on the state line with Giles County. Ironically, Johnston is now a practicing physician in of all places Blacksburg. His son is the starting quarterback at Blacksburg High School, and Johnston is the offensive coordinator at the school, which last year won Virginia’s Group 3A state championship.
By contrast, it’s a 3 1/2 hour drive from Bluefield to Morgantown up route 19 through the world famous Summersville, WV speed trap and onto I-79. Honestly I believe most West Virginia fans would rather see the Mountaineers restart the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt, after all it’s been a while since Mountaineer fans were able to yell “Eat Shit Pitt”, which was an annual rite of fall.
Virginia Tech wasn’t really something that WVU spent a lot of time worrying about. Former Coach Don Nehlen was quoted as saying he didn’t pay a lot of attention to Virginia Tech until they became a conference game because they were down in Southwest Virginia and his team was an hour south of Pittsburgh.
Nehlen’s feelings about the rivalry may have had something to do with the fact that over the past 20 years, this “rivalry” has been largely one-sided and he retired with an 11-11 record against Tech. Virginia Tech has won 13 of the last 20 games between the schools including 6 of the last 8. This meeting on Sunday is the 52nd between the two schools. The first was held in 1912. After a two-year break in 1913 and 1914, the two schools played three straight years from 1915 – 1918. From 1918 – 1951, there were no games and that includes the two seasons in 1943 and 1944 when Virginia Tech didn’t field a team due to World War II.
There was a two year renewal from 1952 – 1953, but it wasn’t until 1957 that this game became an “almost” annual tradition. From 1957 – 1968 it was a Southern Conference Game. When Virginia Tech pulled out of the Southern Conference in 1969, the two schools took another four year break. But, from 1973 – 2005, they met each year rotating between Morgantown and Blacksburg. In addition to Morgantown and Blacksburg, this game has been played in Charleston, Huntington, Richmond and the 1952 game was played in Bluefield.
The game has a traveling trophy, the Black Diamond Trophy, as an ode to the rich coal history of both states. Virginia Tech has held the trophy for 12 years since a 34-17 win in Morgantown on October 1, 2005. The last West Virginia win was 2003. Honestly, since they haven’t played and West Virginia has moved onto the Big XII, this game kind of became an afterthought until the two schools got together and decided to restart the game. It’s scheduled for a neutral site game this year, and resumes again for two years in 2021 and 2022 in Morgantown and Blacksburg respectively.
Approaching this game the coaches have tried to emphasize to their players the importance of the rivalry since a senior playing in this game would have been about 10 years old at the time of the last meeting. There have been some memorable games between the two and some real duds like the 1995 27-0 whitewashing by Virginia Tech, and the forgettable 35-0 Virginia Tech win in Morgantown in 2001 which was the first VT-WVU game for new coach Rick Rodriguez. The 1999 game dubbed the Miracle in Morgantown was won by Virginia Tech 22-20 on a last second field goal by kicker Shane Graham. The kick was set up by Michael Vick doing what Michael Vick does when he scrambled and appeared to be going out of bounds to stop the clock, only to turn it up and gain the critical yards necessary for a field goal attempt. Virginia Tech doesn’t play for the National Title unless that happens. In 1989, West Virginia was ranked in the top 10 and Virginia Tech used defense and 4 Mickey Thomas field goals to spring one of Beamer’s first signature wins at Virginia Tech 12-10.
This year’s game won’t be your father’s WVU-VT game. In other words, you are unlikely to see a West Virginia draw play on 3rd down and 8. Both programs are now devotees of the spread offense. WVU”s is a bit more of what is often described as a “air-raid” attack that coach Dana Holgersen learned from his mentors Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. Holgersen swears that he’s giving up play calling duties to his offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. The biggest bet might not be on who wins this game, but how long that actually lasts. I’d set the over under at a quarter and a half.
Virginia Tech likes to toss the ball around a little as well. The only question is do they have anyone who can actually catch it? First year quarterback Josh Jackson is a talent, but the Hokies are painfully thin at the Wide Receiver spot.
So for one night and in one neutral site, what was an annual occurrence will be back. The Black Diamond trophy will either stay in Blacksburg for at least 4 more years, or it will move to Morgantown. Either way, the winners are those in the Southern part of West Virginia and those in the border counties of Virginia like Tazewell and Giles. You know those who care about this game and not whether Pitt can actually eat shit.