steve-slaton

My Favorite WVU Bowl Memory

I actually remember watching quarterback Oliver Luck lead West Virginia to a shocking upset of Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl.

There was the 1989 Fiesta Bowl when WVU faced Notre Dame with a national championship on the line, and the 2000 Music City Bowl where the Mountaineers defeated Mississippi allowing Don Nehlen to leave a winner.

No Mountaineer could ever forget the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, 48-28, after everyone in the nation figured the Sooners would just roll past WVU.

Hey, I even attended the 1989 Gator Bowl when WVU lost to Clemson.

But one West Virginia bowl performance will always stand out as my favorite.

There were many who had never heard of Pat White, Steve Slaton or Rich Rodriguez, but WVU’s high-powered offense was on display at the 2006 Sugar Bowl against SEC champion Georgia. Instead of being played in New Orleans, which was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, the game was basically a home game for the Bulldogs as it was played in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

Before the Mountaineers even took the field, the state of West Virginia was making national news following the Sago Mine Disaster earlier in the day. The blast and collapsed mine trapped 13 miners for nearly two days, and only one survived.

With this as a backdrop to the game for many fans, WVU’s performance on the field had a little extra meaning.

Early on in the game, WVU shocked Georgia with its up-tempo offense and speed.

Slaton rushed for a record 204 yards as WVU built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and went into halftime up 31-21.

Any WVU fan will tell you that despite the near-flawless performance there was no way to believe the Mountaineers would pull off the win.

Naturally, Georgia fought back to 38-35 and the defense stopped WVU’s offense with less than two minutes to play. The Bulldogs had moved the ball at will in the second half, and you could just feel if the Mountaineers gave the ball back to Mark Richt’s team that Georgia would find a way to win.

With my wife expecting our first child (who was born 17 days later), I was downstairs away from earshot. With 1:26 left to play and WVU faced with a 4th-and-6 near midfield, I stood up and yelled run a fake.

Now I know Rich Rodriguez couldn’t hear me. In fact, no one heard me.

But when I saw punter Phil Brady catch the snap and turn upfield, I was screaming and jumping around as he raced for a first down.

Yep, the punter sealed the victory.

Pat White went on to become the first quarterback to win four bowl games, and Rodriguez would leave less than 24 months later for Michigan.

None of that matters.

At that moment, WVU showed the nation it was for real. The win has also been called the game that saved the Big East, which was still reeling from the losses of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.

As you can see, this was more than just another win.