Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 29, 2012

Mountaineers, Orange share long history

By CAM HUFFMAN for the Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— It doesn’t have a nickname like The Backyard Brawl or The Iron Bowl, it’s not held on a certain week each year and, in fact, it likely won’t continue after today’s meeting in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

But the football series between West Virginia University and Syracuse University is a long one, complete with great games, memorable stories and, of course, controversy.

The two former Big East rivals have played 59 times since first getting together at New York’s Archbold Stadium in 1945, and the series has been about as close as you will find, with the Orange — or Orange-men as they were called for most of the rivalry — holding a slim 32-27 lead.

1945 — The two teams meet for the first time in Syracuse, N.Y., with the home team winning 12-0.

1946 — WVU picks up its first win of the series, knocking off Syracuse at Old Mountaineer Field in Morgantown 13-0.

1964 — In front of 11,000, quarterback Allen McCune hit Bob Dunlevy with a 50-yard pass late in the game, and WVU pulled off a 28-27 upset of No. 9 Syracuse that helped the Mountaineers earn a spot in the Liberty Bowl against Utah.

The Orangemen had already accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl when it visited Old Mountaineer Field. In fact, the press release announcing the Sugar Bowl berth included a win over the Mountaineers in the Orangemen’s record.

1975 — After falling behind 17-0, WVU began to claw back against the Orangemen when Ron Lee scored two touchdowns on the ground, and then quarterback Dan Kendra found Tommy Bowden in the end zone in the final seconds to cut the lead to 29-19. Head coach Bobby Bowden decided to go for the 2-point conversion, but the officials ruled that Lee was tackled short of the goal line, despite the objections from WVU players, coaches and fans. Syracuse held on for a 1-point victory.

1987 — No. 6 Syracuse was 10-0 and had already accepted a spot in the Sugar Bowl when a 6-4 West Virginia team visited the Carrier Dome.

The Mountaineers led 31-24 with just minutes left on the clock. That’s when SU quarterback Don McPherson, who had four interceptions, drove his team down the field and found Pat Kelly in the end zone on a 17-yard pass with 10 seconds left on the clock.

With a perfect season on the line, head coach Dick MacPeherson wasn’t about to play for the tie. Michael Owens’ 2-point conversion run capped off a 22-point fourth quarter for Syracuse and gave the Orangemen a 32-31 victory and their first perfect season since 1959.

1988 — The only thing that stood between No. 4 WVU and its first undefeated season was No. 14 Syracuse on a cold night at Mountaineer Field in 1998.

WVU dominated from start to finish. Major Harris rushed for 96 yards and threw for 114 more, and A.B. Brown rattled off 103 yards on 19 carries. Craig Taylor found the end zone on two of his seven carries.

Defensively, WVU forced Syracuse quarterback Todd Philcox to throw four interceptions, and WVU won easily 31-9.

1992 — WVU was 3-0-2 and Syracuse was ranked No. 14 in the country.

Leading 17-13 with fewer than 4 minutes to play, WVU was poised for an upset when SU quarterback Marvin Graves scrambled toward the Syracuse sideline and was knocked out of bounds by the Mountain-eers’ Tommy Orr.

Graves popped up and fired the football at Orr’s head, believing that the hit was late, and SU assistant coach Kevin Rodgers grabbed Orr by the jersey.

That began an all-out brawl. Three key Mountaineer defenders — Michael Collins, Tom Briggs and Leroy Axem — were ejected from the game. Syracuse lost only an offensive lineman. Graves, who started the fight, stayed in the game.

On a fourth-and-two from the Syracuse 26 with fewer than 2 minutes to play, Graves threw an incomplete pass, only to see the play waved off on a delay of game penalty against the Orangemen.

Syracuse got a second chance, and this time Matt Taffoni was called for pass interference on a pass that sailed well over the head of SU tight end Chris Gedney. WVU was already celebrating the stop, and an apparent victory, when the flag came onto the field.

Syracuse scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Graves to Gedney, and the Orangemen won 20-17.

1993 — There wasn’t a lot of love between WVU and Syracuse in 1993, not after what happened the previous season. The Mountaineers were angry, and Syracuse paid the price.

WVU was 6-0 and ranked No. 13 heading into that meeting in the Carrier Dome, and it was clear after the game that the ranking was deserved.

Robert Walker rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns, Jake Kelchner threw for 191 yards and rushed for 51 more and WVU dominated the Orangemen 43-0 to stay undefeated and send a message.

1998 — Don Nehlen still calls his 1998 team his most talented group, but for much of the season, the Mountaineers couldn’t quite live up to that potential.

The season started with a 34-17 loss to No. 1 Ohio State, and after four straight wins, the Mountaineers fell 34-31 to Miami and then 27-13 to No. 20 Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks. WVU was desperate for a victory.

In front of 54,655 fans at Mountaineer Field, that’s just what it found.

Amos Zereoue rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and Marc Bulger threw for 257 yards and another score on a touchdown pass to David Saunders. Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb was sacked five times, and WVU scored the only touchdown of the final quarter to win 35-28.

2000 — Following a 31-27 Syracuse victory in Morgantown WVU head coach Don Nehlen, in his 21st season as the coach of the Mountaineers, announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season.

2002-2009 — The most dominant stretch for either team saw West Virginia win eight straight games in the series.

2010 — Syracuse was a long way from the days of Jim Brown when the No. 19 Mountaineers and head coach Bill Stewart hosted the Orange.

Under second-year head coach Doug Marrone, Syracuse was 4-2. WVU was 5-1, the only loss a 20-14 defeat on the road at No. 15 LSU. But the Mountaineers rushed for just 106 total yards, and quarterback Geno Smith was sacked five times and tossed three interceptions.

Syracuse found just enough offense as Antwon Bailey rushed for 94 yards and Delone Carter 75 more. The Orange pulled the upset, winning 19-14.

2011 — Dana Holgorsen was rolling right along during his first season as head coach. WVU was 5-1, the only loss against No. 2 LSU.

That’s when WVU made a Friday night trip to the Carrier Dome to meet up with a 5-2 Syracuse squad that had lost two of its last four games.

From the start, it was clear that it would not be the Mountaineers’ night. WVU was held to just 70 yards rushing, and Geno Smith was sacked four times. He also threw a pair of interceptions.

Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, meanwhile, had the game of his life, throwing for 229 yards and four touchdowns. The Orange won 49-23, bringing Holgorsen and Mountaineer fans back to reality.