Time Flies: WVU beat Sooners in Fiesta Bowl a decade ago
MORGANTOWN – It was mid-December 2007. West Virginia had mostly disregarded a loss in Tampa to South Florida, and the record was 10-1. Only long-time rival Pittsburgh was left on the schedule, and the Panthers were bruised badly with their losing record.
Ranked No. 2 nationally, the offensive-minded Mountaineers would likely draw a berth in the national championship game if they could avoid an upset night against the 28-point underdog Panthers.
More than 60,000 bundled souls crowded into Milan Puskar Stadium, hoping to see Pittsburgh dispatched back to the Land of Rolling Rock Beer and the Golden Triangle with a stinging loss.
There were concealed and soft rumors that head coach Rich Rodriguez might be shopping his coaching wares elsewhere. Nothing concrete, no real evidence of clandestine meetings. But Rodriguez had earlier interviewed at Alabama, where he wasn’t offered the Crimson Tide job. When he returned from Tuscaloosa, he assured all who would listen that he was going to be at WVU for a long time.
Pittsburgh did little on the scoreboard. West Virginia did less.
Two field goals were missed and then quarterback Pat White hurt his thumb near the close of the first half.
Would the golden opportunity to skin the Panthers, as well as reach the national championship game be wasted? It was.
Pittsburgh won, 13-9.
So sure of WVU’s chances of beating the nearby rival, thousands of Mountaineer fans had purchased non-refundable travel packages for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans where the national championship would be played.
With the nasty loss to Pittsburgh, the Mountaineer bowl train would not be chugging to New Orleans.
The next week, Rodriguez announced he was leaving, going to Michigan. He would eventually be asked to leave because his Wolverine record smelled too much with its continual losses.
As the Big East Conference co-champions, West Virginia was going to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona to face Oklahoma.
Bill Stewart was handed the interim head coaching job. Rodriguez could gallop off to Ann Arbor in a cloud of maize and blue – he wasn’t coaching in the bowl game.
Oklahoma was the Big 12 champion, but had seen several players injured in the league title game and others leave the team due to troubles with the law.
The Mountaineers received the Fiesta bid because they had romped to a 66-21 win over Big East co-champion Connecticut.
West Virginia could sell only 10,000 of the 17,500 tickets it was given for the Fiesta Bowl. It returned 7,500 tickets to the bowl committee.
When running back Steve Slaton was injured early in the bowl game, people might have thought, “Oh, oh, here we go again.”
But that wasn’t the case. Diminutive Noel Devine replaced Slaton.
Pat McAfee booted two field goals for a 6-0 WVU lead. Owen Schmitt ran 57 yards for a score that lifted the Mountaineers into a 13-3 lead. Just before the first half ended in the Arizona night, Darius Reynaud took a 21-yard scoring pass from White, and WVU carried a 20-6 cushion into halftime.
Devine had a 17-yard touchdown run, Reynaud scored on a reverse run and it was suddenly 34-15 with West Virginia continuing to shock the Boomer Sooners.
White found Tito Gonzalez on a 79-yard strike that all but silenced Oklahoma, which trailed 41-21.
The final was 48-28 when Devine made a 65-yard run to the end zone.
West Virginia had rushed for 349 yards. White had amassed 326 yards of total offense.
The night wasn’t over. Stewart had the interim tag removed and was given a five-year contract.
The once tumultuous ending to the season now had state-wide celebrations and unity. Rodriguez was vilified from one end of the state to the other. West Virginia had buried Oklahoma. With the bowl vindication, the overall record was 11-2.
That season happened a decade ago. It seems a short 10 years – a very short 10 years.