MORGANTOWN — A sell-out crowd of 60,022 turned out at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday to watch host West Virginia take on old rival Virginia Tech for the first time in Morgantown since 2005.
As part of a “Gold Rush,” many fans arrived with gold towels ... and left with white knuckles.
They also left happy as the Mountaineers came up with a goal-line stand inside the final minute to turn away a late rally by the No. 15 Hokies, with WVU hanging on for a 27-21 win in one of the most gripping home thrillers in the series and in recent memory.
It marked the first time WVU claimed the Black Diamond Trophy since Oct. 22, 2003 when the Mountaineers defeated then-No. 3 Virginia Tech 28-7 in Morgantown. The win also halted a three-game win streak in the series for the Hokies as Tech won in 2004, 2005 and in 2017, the teams’ only meeting since the yearly meeting was discontinued.
“Great win, really happy for our team, for our fans … I’m worn out,” WVU coach Neal Brown admitted. “I feel like I played. Good thing I didn’t, but I feel like I did.”
For much of Saturday’s contest, it appeared it would be a relatively stress-free victory with WVU carrying a 24-7 lead into the halftime break and pushing that lead to 27-7 late in the third quarter.
But the Hokies (2-1) roared back and picked off Mountaineer quarterback Jarret Doege on third down deep in WVU territory with just 2:11 remaining in a six-point game.
Virginia Tech took over at the WVU 17-yard line and had a first-and-goal from the 3 with time ticking away. But the with their backs suddenly against the wall, the Mountaineers made their stand, turning the Hokies away on four straight plays, culminating in a pass breakup by WVU’s Jackie Matthews on fourth-and-goal from the 4 as the sold-out crowd erupted.
“Winning is hard and we talked about it before the game, I thought this was going to be a defining moment for us,” Brown said. “It was a little ugly there at the end, but at the end of the day they’re going to count this as a win. We’ve been talking about this as a football team – for 6,195 days that trophy had been in Blacksburg, Virginia, and so tonight we were able to bring it home and I know there’s a bunch of people wearing gold today that are happy about that.”
The WVU defense had its way with the Hokies throughout most of the game, piling up 13 tackles for loss and six sacks, highlighted by a three-sack effort from bandit Jared Bartlett.
But a couple of breakdowns allowed Virginia Tech to creep back in the game after West Virginia had seemed to have things well in hand.
On third-and-24 from the Mountaineer 45 late in the third quarter, and with West Virginia leading 27-7, Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister made a defender miss and scrambled for 25 yards, picking up a first down. Two plays later, Hokies running back Raheem Blackshear rumbled into the end zone from 20 yards out to narrow the gap to 27-14 with one second left in the third period.
With that score still holding, the Hokies took over with 4:48 remaining and drove to the Mountaineer 22. Taijh Alston and Jordan Jefferson teamed up to sack Burmeister on second down, forcing a third-and-17 play, but Burmeister eluded pressure before finding Jalen Holston all alone in the flat. Holston did the rest, sprinting 29 yards to the end zone, and with 3:10 remaining the Hokies were within six points.
The Mountaineers (2-1) took over at their own 25 on the ensuing drive and faced a third-and-10 after a false-start penalty. Doege looked left for an inside screen to Isaiah Esdale but overthrew it, with Virginia Tech’s Jermaine Waller coming up with an interception, setting up the final sequence inside the WVU 5-yard line.
While the WVU defense was fighting to hang on, the Mountaineer offense was stalling. After scoring 24 points in the first half and 14 on its first two possessions, the WVU offense mustered just three points in the second half. Running back Leddie Brown rushed 162 yards on 19 carries but 80 of that came on the Mountaineers’ second play as he went untouched to the end zone to put West Virginia up 7-0 early.
Casey Legg booted a 44-yard field goal to cap the Mountaineers’ initial drive of the third quarter, but after that the offense managed two punts, a fumble and the aforementioned interception.
“We may have taken the air out of it too early,” Neal Brown admitted. “Sometimes you look at things retroactively and you say that. Whether that’s the case, I don’t know.
“It’s a finicky game, right? If we don’t play that bad the last two drives of the game, you’re in here talking about how good we played on offense, right? Hell, we just won a rivalry game. Fair questions — so don’t think I’m being negative here toward [the media], because they are all fair questions — but we beat the No. 15 team in the country at home, but because we didn’t play very well late, that’s all the questions, right?”
West Virginia jumped out to a 14-0 lead after a 29-yard touchdown throw from Doege to Bryce Ford-Wheaton just 5:49 into the game. Thanks in large part to three WVU defensive penalties, Virginia Tech was able to mount a response, marching 75 yards in 11 plays, capped with a 23-yard pass from Burmeister to Tayvion Robinson to make the score 14-7.
Virginia Tech had a chance to draw closer but the Mountaineer defense stuffed Burmeister on a fourth-and-1 carry early in the second quarter. After the teams traded punts on the following two drives, WVU extended its lead on a short throw from Doege to Sam James and James made two defenders miss, sprinting 16 yards to the end zone to make the score 21-7.
A 21-yard field goal by Legg extended the margin to 24-7 with 1:41 remaining in the half. Blackshear returned the ensuing kick 78 yards to the WVU 22, but the Mountaineer defense held strong and Hokies kicker John Parker Romo missed a 24-yard field goal, allowing West Virginia to carry the 17-point lead into the half.
Doege threw for 192 yards on 15-of-26 passing, with Esdale grabbing a team-high four passes for 46 yards. The Mountaineers held the Hokies to 111 yards rushing, with Burmeister hitting on 19 of 31 throws for 218 yards.