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Auld lang syne treated West Virginia badly on New Year’s Day

By Staff | Dec 30, 2016

New Year’s Day.

Auld lang syne.

College football bowl games were played and toasted. Quality college football games featuring teams that won far more than they lost.

West Virginia University has played its share of bowl games on New Year’s Day. Auld lang syne treated the Mountaineers with distain, leaving the blue and gold with more bruises than a 10-day old banana.

Since the debacle in the Jan. 1, 1954, Sugar Bowl where Georgia Tech’s pony backfield and quarterback Pepper Rodgers rolled over the men of Coach Art “Pappy” Lewis, 42-19, the Mountaineers of history have found but one win in any bowl game played on Jan. 1.

That success came after the 2006 season with Pat White and Owen Schmitt when West Virginia rallied back from a considerable deficit to defeat Georgia Tech, 38-35, in the 2007 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

Georgia Tech had wide receiver Calvin Johnson and his length and abilities scornfully disregarded West Virginia’s attempts to defend him.

Johnson seemingly scored all afternoon and the Atlanta-based Yellow Jackets stood ready to trounce the Mountaineers.

And then the third quarter came along. White and Schmitt were prolific in their offensive production . . . and West Virginia kept on scoring . . . finally overtaking the last of Georgia Tech’s lead and moving away to a three-point win.

The stadium (called Alltel Stadium at the time) was about two-thirds filled. Rain was promised for late in the day. West Virginia’s Steve Slaton was injured early in the first half when the Mountaineers appeared ready to be dunked in the nearby St. John’s River.

Light sprinkles didn’t hamper the play or the mood of the spectators.

Johnson just kept catching touchdown passes.

And then White became nothing less than a game-changing artist dressed in a blue cape and able to leap tall buildings in single bound.

West Virginia created a stir by overcoming a double-digit deficit.

For once, the Gator Bowl had finished with a happy outcome for Mountaineer fans everywhere.

Since 1950 that was West Virginia’s only win on any Jan. 1 in bowl history.

Pappy wasn’t the only West Virginia coach to feel the sting of a new year’s serpent of defeat.

Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart had their shrouded afternoons that ended in losses on the first days of other years.

Following the 1993 season of unbeaten success, Nehlen and company were dominated by Florida’s speed and quickness in a 41-7 loss in the 1994 Sugar Bowl.

In the 1997 Gator Bowl, it was North Carolina clipping the Mountaineers, 20-13. The Gator Bowl seemed to take delight in giving West Virginia reasons to shout, “Wait til next year.” Rodriguez piloted the team on to the shoals in Jacksonville in all ill-fated 41-7 loss to Coach Ralph Friedgen and a Maryland team in the 2004 Gator Bowl.

The next year, Florida State and long-time Coach Bobby Bowden took some solace for a sometimes-troubled season with a 30-18 win over the Mountaineers.

Even after the sizzling comeback win over Georgia Tech in the 2007 game, there was a 2010 Gator Bowl loss to Florida State, 33-21.

Jacksonville may be a comfortable destination in the winter for tourists and other college football teams, but it hasn’t favored the Mountaineers over the years.

One win on Jan. 1. The 2007 Gator Bowl.

Pat White was just a little more spectacular than Calvin Johnson.

Auld lang syne. Should auld acquaintances be forgot.

There haven’t been any New Year’s Day games in West Virginia’s history for several years now.

This year’s team was rewarded with a Dec. 28 game in Orlando, a warm weather spa for fans, coaches, athletic administrators and players alike.

In the future, if bowl games leading to the national championship aren’t on West Virginia’s docket, maybe the Mountaineers would be better playing on Dec. 31 or Jan. 2 . . .

. . . Any day except New Year’s Day.