The most impressive record belonged to senior linebacker Scott Gyorko, who broke the school and NCAA records for single season and career sacks with 64. The record would have been far greater had the glitch that allowed Gyorko a clear path to the QB been discovered earlier than the 2nd quarter of the Maryland game.
While none of the early contests were particularly close at first glance, the Mountaineers were given all they could handle in the first half at Central Florida, trailing 10-7 at the break before scoring 35 unanswered points in the second half for a 42-10 victory.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the season was the 56-7 thrashing of Ralph Friedgen and the Maryland Terrapins. In that game, senior quarterback Rasheed Marshall was 15-19 for 324 yards and four touchdowns through the air, plus another 63 yards and a TD on the ground on 11 carries. Jason Colson returned a punt 87 yards for a TD, and Harris and Bryan Wright each ran for a score. Coach Richardson pulled the starters with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter allowing Charles Hales to take a knee at the final gun. The post game handshake at midfield between Friedgen and a Gatorade-doused Richardson was less than cordial, to say the least.
After rolling over James Madison, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, Syracuse, Rutgers, Temple, and Boston College, the stage was set for a Thanksgiving night match-up at Heinz Field with the archrival Pitt Panthers. A national TV audience tuned in to watch Richardson and his troops complete just the third undefeated regular season in school history.
The first half was all Pitt as Tyler Palko hit Greg Lee for touchdown passes of 38 and 16 yards, and Princeton native Tyrone Gilliard returned a Marshall interception, just his third of the season, 56 yards for a touchdown. Trailing 21-0 going into the locker room against a 5-5 team fighting for a bowl spot, head coach Chris Richardson delivered a riveting locker room speech. He talked about how as a kid, his earliest Mountaineer memory was watching Major Harris run circles around Bowling Green in the 1988 season opener. He spoke about the chills he had every time he saw the band break the circle at mid-field during Simple Gifts. He touched on the fact that every time he watched a tape of the 1988 Penn State game he was born anew in the genius of Brent Musburger's pre game introduction.
The emotional plea made by college football's youngest head coach (20 years old) wasn't lost on the young men in Blue and Gold. Marshall used his arm and his legs to move the Mountaineers down the field on their opening drive of the second half, hooking up with John Pennington for a 23 yard touchdown pass. Brad Cooper's extra point pulled the visitors to within 14.
Palko, Lee, and company were poised to answer back, driving all the way down to the Mountaineer 14 yard-line before Gyorko forced a fumble that was recovered by senior defensive lineman Ben Lynch at the Mountaineer 20. After two misdirection plays by Harris moved the ball into Pitt territory, Marshall lofted a high pass down the left sideline. Henry, who had been held in check until this point, caught the ball inside the Pitt 5. After two unsuccessful runs by Harris, Marshall rolled out on a bootleg and hit a wide open Josh Bailey for his second touchdown pass of the game. Pitt 21, WVU 14.
After the Panthers went three and out, Colson tied the game with his second punt return score of the season. An obviously rattled Walt Harris took over from that point on, calling play action plays and rolling Palko to Gyorko's side where the University High grad showed why he was routinely named Big East Defensive Player of the Week, burying the Pitt quarterback to the turf and knocking him out of the game with a strained shoulder.
When Marshall and the Mountaineer offense took over again, everyone in the stadium knew that the ball was going in the direction of number 5. Everyone, that is, but Marshall and Pennington. The senior from Charleston broke wide open across the middle for his second receiving touchdown of the game.
From there, the rout was on as the Mountaineers closed the third quarter with a 35-21 advantage with Harris tacking on a TD on the final play of the quarter. After another three and out in the fourth quarter, Richardson lifted Marshall, who finished a perfect 3-0 in starts against his hometown school. Hales didn't miss a beat, finding Rayshawn Bolden for a 34 yard TD. Colson added his second touchdown of the game, this time via a 12 yard run. Final score: WVU 49 - Pitt 21.
While you would think that an 11-0 perfect season would put the Mountaineers in the top 2 of the BCS rankings, Richardson and his Mountaineers had to wait until an Oklahoma loss in the Big Twelve title game to secure that spot. Surrounded by his team in the comforts of his humble little apartment on the Monongahela River, Richardson received the news that he and the Mountaineers would be facing the Seminoles in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
While many picked against the Blue and Gold based on the sheer fact that they were in a bowl game, Marshall, Gyorko, and the rest of the Mountaineers had other ideas.
FSU got the ball first and drove all the way down to the Mountaineer 1 yard line. Lynch tripped up running back Lorenzo Booker on first down for a 2 yard loss. Booker again got the call on 2nd down, but this time it was Ernest Hunter who stopped him for no gain. On third down, Chris Rix rolled to his right and was met by Gyorko, who introduced Rix to the Orange Bowl turf for the first of 8 sacks on the evening. Xavier Beitia got over his Orange Bowl funk and gave FSU a 3-0 lead with just under 3 minutes to play in the first quarter. Harris fumbled on the first offensive play for the Mountaineers, but the defense again rose to the challenge, leading to another FSU field goal. FSU 6 – WVU 0.
Richardson chose to stick with Harris, despite the somewhat costly fumble, and the Tampa native made the coach look like a genius, ripping off runs of 7, 14, and 20 yards in succession moving the ball inside Seminole territory. Marshall then hit Henry for a 39 yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Cooper's extra point gave the good guys the lead, which they wouldn't give up.
Three more Marshall TD passes later, 2 to Henry and the final to Pennington, and a 41 yard Harris scamper, the Mountaineers headed to the locker room with a 35-7 lead.
The Blue and Gold got the ball to start the second half, and Pac Man Jones scampered down the right hash to the FSU 31 yard line. Marshall rolled out, saw nobody open, tucked the ball, and picked up 19 yards on the first offensive play for the second half. On the second play, Harris took a shotgun handoff to the house, giving the Eers a 42-6 lead, and all but sealing the first national championship in school history.
The rest of the game was uneventful, save for a 71 yard TD bolt by Bryan Wright as the gun sounded. Richardson was carried off the field while Jeremy Hines ran in front of him with the ADT National Championship Trophy.
The All-American Team featured Marshall, Henry, Harris, Mike Watson, and Dan Mozes on the first team. Inexplicably, Gyorko was left off the first team, despite winning the Bednarik Award for the nation's best defensive player, and the Best LB award. Other individual award winners included Marshall (Best QB), Harris (Maxwell, Doak Walker), Henry (Best WR), and Watson (edging out Mozes for Best OL).
Richardson was handsomely rewarded at seasons end, turning down offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, and FSU to sign a five-year extension with the Mountaineers. The deal will allow him to stay in the University City and get his bachelor's degree, and more than likely a masters.
Wouldn't life be much easier if it all was just video games?
Editor's Note: Depsite his stellar performance, Richardson did not receive a raise from the Blue & Gold News.