The history of the WVU-Penn State series is not one that Mountaineer fans are proud of. Nor should they be. From 1904 to 1992, the two teams played 59 times. The Nittany Lions won 48 of those games, the Mountaineers won 9, and the two teams tied twice. From 1956 to 1983 the Mountaineers didn't win one stinking game. To my knowledge, it's the worst losing streak the Mountaineers have had with any opponent. And if there's a worse one, let's just not talk about it. Okay?
1984 was the time in college football when you could count on three things. Death, taxes, and Penn State being devistatingly good at football. Joe Paterno was the dean of college football coaches. We hadn't beaten the Nittany Lions with Oliver Luck or Jeff Hostetler at quarterback. So the idea that we were going to win with Kevin White at the helm didn't gain much traction with 14 year old me or the rest of the Mountaineer faithful.
Not that this wasn't a good Mountaineer team. Coming into the game, they had only lost one game, to Frank Reich and Maryland by three points. They had beaten Syracuse, Pitt, Va. Tech, and #4 Boston College with eventual Heisman winner Doug Flutie the previous week. The Mountaineers were on a roll, but Penn State was a different beast than any of the afore mentioned teams. They were scary, and Jack Fleming brought his best stuff this night.
Back in 1984, night games were a very rare thing as was West Virginia being on TV. To me this was the night new Mountaineer Field became a place other teams didn't want to play. The game itself was a back and forth affair. West Virginia got on the board first with a Ron Wolfley touchdown run up the middle in the first quarter. Penn State replied with a touchdown of their own in the second quarter. The next 30 minutes became a battle for field position and a battle of wills. But where West Virginia had fallen apart or been overwhelmed so many times before by Penn State, this night the Mountaineers dug in and gave us what we had been waiting on for so many years.
Up 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers forced a fumble and recovered at Penn State's 39 yard line. Pat Randolph would eventually take it in to give the Mountaineers a 17-7 lead.
Many years later, All-American tackle Brian Jozwiak described the noise of the crowd to be something like a jet engine so loud that he couldn't hear himself think. The stadium shook with such joy. I nearly fell over with excitement. The tension leading up to that point was nerve wracking and the ensuing release was euphoric.
The game wasn't over, though. Penn State would add a touchdown to make the game 17-14. West Virginia played it safe and relied on the defense to win the game. This night it was the right move as Penn States last two drives would be killed by interceptions from Rich Rodriguez and Larry Holley.
No matter what the last few years has told you about Joe Paterno, on this night he carried himself with the utmost class. Rather than protesting Mountaineer fans rushing the field before the game was over, he simply went to midfield and shook Don Nehlen's hand and got his team off the field. He wouldn't say anything negative in his postgame remarks and made it a point to enter the Mountaineer locker room to congratulate the players he couldn't because of the chaos on the field.
This may not be the biggest win in school history. But at the time, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Injuries and a lack of depth prevented this team from making a big bowl game. When they were healthy, they were a legit top ten team. We would have to wait another four years for those dreams of a top ten finish to become a reality.
A special thanks to James Schrumpf for documenting the moments of this game that mattered.