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Mountaineer Throwback Thursday: WVU vs. VT 2003, Fire On The Mountain

In this edition of Throwback Thursday we look back as one of WVU’s most hated rivals comes to Morgantown ranked #3, chasing a championship and revenge in an ESPN Wednesday night showdown.

Jared Wickerham

As a way of combating the off-season doldrums we'll be presenting Throwback Thursday here at the Smoking Musket, a feature where we remember Mountaineer Moments from the past. In this edition of Throwback Thursday we look back as one of WVU's most hated rivals comes to Morgantown ranked #3 chasing a championship and revenge in an ESPN Wednesday night showdown.

For many WVU fans the Battle for the Black Diamond Trophy is/was the biggest rivalry in WVU sports. While Pitt will always have its place as a geographical rival, WVU and Virginia Tech were simply achieving more on the gridiron than Pitt was during most of the 2000's and as such the games between the Mountaineers and Hokies always had a bit more significance to them.

The rivalry really heat up from 2002-2004 as three consecutive matchups featured teams in the top #15 losing to their unranked rival. In 2002 the unranked Mountaineers visited Blacksburg and left Lane Stadium with a thrilling 21-18 victory over the #12 ranked Hokies in a game that included one of the most famous defensive plays in WVU history.

That victory was the first big time win in the Rich Rodriguez era and set off a raucous celebration in Morgantown where students set couches on fire across downtown and tore down the goal posts at Mountaineer Field (You read that correctly. The goal posts wore tore down for a victory at an away game). WVU finished the 2002 season by knocking off the #18 ranked Pitt Panthers and earning their first bowl birth under Rich Rod in the Continental Tire Bowl (as some may remember this should have been a Gator Bowl birth, but because of the Big East's open relationship with Notre Dame the Mountaineers were relegated to Charlotte).

When the teams met in 2003 the Mountaineers were badly limping bringing a 2-4 record into the game with 3 of their 4 losses coming by a combined 11 points including a gut wrenching 22-20 loss to the #2 ranked Miami Hurricanes a game memorable for "The Run":

On the opposite end of the spectrum the hated Hokies entered the game ranked #3 in the country and boasting one of the supposedly better defenses in college football that year. The Hokies were chasing a national championship birth and were no doubt looking for some revenge for the previous years upset in Blacksburg.

The Mountaineers struck first, and second, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter courtesy of a couple touchdown runs by Kay Jay Harris and Quincy Wilson. WVU appeared to be heading to another score right before the half when Virginia Tech recovered and scored off a WVU fumble and a controversial call.

Despite a dominant first half, thanks to the controversial touchdown the Hokies had a manageable 14-7 deficit to start the third quarter. To make matters worse for WVU, the Mountaineers began the second half backed up inside their own 10-yard line and facing a second a long situation. Virginia Tech who had been abused in the first half by WVU's running game chose to play with eight men in the box and dare WVU to take a chance. WVU obliged and Rasheed Marshall hit a streaking Travis Garvin in stride who outran the Virginia Tech secondary the remaining 60 yards to the end zone to put WVU up 21-7. The fans at Mountaineer Field erupted, and the game's outcome was really never in question after the play.

For good measure Rasheed Marshall added one more touchdown on a short run in the third quarter to conclude the scoring at 28-7. The final 21-point margin felt more like a 30 or 40 point win as Virginia Tech was dominated in every facet of the game. The Hokies, who came in as the least penalized team in the Big East, and allowing only 88 rushing yards a game, had 13 penalties for 116 yards and gave up 426 total yards including 264 on the ground. Adding insult to injury Coach Frank Beamer was caught on camera slapping wide receiver Ernest Wilford on the sideline. For WVU the win was part of what would be a seven game winning streak to end the season that culminated with a Gator Bowl appearance.

It was a total all around win for WVU as a hated rival was eliminated from the national championship conversation and thoroughly embarrassed on national television. Following the game the smell of pepper spray spread across Mountaineer Field as thousands of students rushed the field only to be met by a combative police force. The smell of pepper spray was trumped a short while later by the smell of burning couches across all of Sunnyside as the WVU student body took couch burning to an entirely new level setting over 100 couch fires.