WVU Suffered Biggest Trick of All In 1996

What happened to cause the Mountaineer football program to take a step or two back from the heights of the late '80s and early '90s? Perhaps it was a singular moment on a late October night...

Expectations were high. An experienced quarterback returned, as did a veteran defense and a very promising redshirt freshman tailback from the Ivory Coast via Long Island. And they did not disappoint. The defense was stellar, giving up an average of only seven points per game through their first seven games, including shutouts of Pitt and Maryland. Meanwhile, the offense was averaging 25 points per contest.

The mighty Mountaineers brought the nation's best defense and an undefeated record into a monumental night battle televised nationally by ESPN. Yes, a storm - not just any storm but THE storm - had hit Morgantown, but little did the Hurricanes know that the tempest would be dealt by the home team.

The gang from the deep south of Florida got on the board first and took a 3-0 lead. But it came with a price, for the Mountaineer defense was brutal. From the stands, it seemed that a Miami player was being assisted from the field after every other play.

It was indeed a defensive struggle as both titans tried in vain to invade the enemy's turf.


Hardly! It was a wonderful game to behold. Then the Mountaineers scored to take a 7-3 lead and the pandemonium was "almost heaven." WVU's defense dominated throughout. Miami could offer little in the way of a threat.

It was to go the way of the Mountaineers. It would be the springboard to a third undefeated regular season and another shot at the mythical national championship. All that separated the Mountaineers from this reality was a scant few seconds and a successful punt.

But this was late October. And the football gods - or demons - had another thing in mind. Perhaps someone on the 'Canes sideline made a deal with the darkside, made some sacrifice the benefit of which would have to be repaid sometime in the future. We'll never know.

What we do know is that the punt was blocked, Miami recovered, and there was an illegal (and uncalled) forward lateral which lead to a shocking touchdown - and a devastating 10-7 Miami victory.

The damage had been done. The very next game, the still shattered Mountaineers were embarrassed by Syracuse 30-7. And although WVU would avenge the defeat to Miami the very next season, 28-17, in the Orange Bowl, the program just didn't seem the same after that fateful night back on October 26, 1996.

The '98 edition of the Mountaineers, which many believe to be the most talented team in WVU history and which was thought by many so-called national experts to be a national championship contender, promptly lost to top-ranked Ohio State and went on to lose to the usual culprits - Miami and Virginia Tech - before bowing to Missouri in the Insight.com Bowl.

The '99 squad dropped to 4-7, with only a blowout of Pitt to salvage the season. Blowout losses in 2000 to Miami and Virginia Tech, and a terribly disappointing last minute loss to Syracuse, caused the longstanding coach of the Mountaineers to turn the reins over to a younger coach who could give the kind of energy he could no longer muster.

Yes, less than 30 seconds that fateful night was all it took for the program to lose its swagger. And it is still trying to get it back. This season, the Mountaineers will once again play host to the Hurricanes in late October. But perhaps this contest will be different. Perhaps the Mountaineers will be treated, not tricked.

Oh, and I hope you enjoy what is MY favorite holiday/tradition - Halloween.

Jason Todd, better known as theWestbygodVirginian, is an occasional contributor to this site. He has a decidedly different slant on topics around WVU sports which we think is entertaining and thought-provoking. Happy Halloween!

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