We’re on the back end of our look at those moments that have haunted West Virginia Mountaineer fans, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention anything involving the Mountaineers’ rivalry with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
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 get a win over the much hated foes from Happy Valley.
I could go back and pick almost any one of West Virginia’s 48 losses to the Nittany Lions to write about in this article, but there’s one specific moment that sticks in my mind.
October 24, 1992.
A No. 14 ranked Penn State traveled to Morgantown for what would be the final meeting between the two programs for nearly 31 years. Fresh off of back-to-back close losses to the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes and the No. 20 Boston College Eagles, the Lions rolled into Milan Puskar Stadium expecting to continue their dominance over the Mountaineers. Don Nehlen’s squad had other plans.
The Mountaineers scored the first points of the game, early in the first quarter, on a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Kelchner to Ed Hill. Just a few minutes later, Kerry Collins answered with a 9-yard touchdown pass of his own but backup kicker VJ Muscillo missed the extra point, leaving West Virginia up 7-6. Mike Vanderjagt added to West Virginia’s lead on the ensuing drive with a 47-yard field goal.
Penn State would take the lead on a 14-yard touchdown run from Richie Anderson but it wouldn’t last long, as Jay Kearney took a pass from Kelchner 74-yards to put West Virginia back on top, 16-13. The Lions had come in expecting to roll, but found themselves in a dogfight with a scrappy team that wasn’t about to let this rivalry end with another loss.
The Nittany Lions mounted a 26-16 lead midway through the third quarter, but the Mountaineers came charging back when Adrian Murrell - who finished the game with 154 yards on the ground - carried it in from 28-yards out to put West Virginia right back in the game. Vanderjagt nailed a 41-yarder on the Mountaineers’ next drive to tie it back up at 26-26, with the momentum resting on West Virginia’s side.
Then things took a turn.
After rallying back from a 10-point deficit and with the ball at the Penn State one-yard line, the Mountaineers seemed well on their way to an upset victory. But as all West Virginia fans are well aware, crucial mistakes rear their ugly head at the most inopportune times. In this case, there was a bit of miscommunication on the handoff to fullback Rodney Woodard and Woodard ended up dropping the ball. Penn State’s Reggie Givens was there to recover the fumble, flipping every ounce of momentum back to the Nittany Lions.
Penn State put together a 12-play, 89 yard drive capped off by a 3-yard touchdown from Anderson to take the lead. Seconds later, Lions linebacker Phil Yeboah-Kodie intercepted a pass and returned it 23 yards to seal the game with a final score of 40-26.