Thirsting for football, remembering Backyard Brawls

Thirsting for football, remembering Backyard Brawls

In the past few months, Wheelhouse Creative helped publicize the recent “Blame My Roots” festival.

And today, well, I guess you can blame my roots.

See, last weekend, my high school class had a reunion. Not the 30th. Or 40th. The 41st.

So forgive me for not holding out until 2020 to reminisce about WVU football.

To be transparent, I saw a high school football practice this morning and it simply got me jazzed for the sport. And since there are no teams playing regular season games yet, I took a jog down memory lane.

Which only made me hungrier for the season to begin.

I went back to WVU’s football seasons of 1979. And 1989. And 1999. And 2009. I covered all as a sports writer except that of ’79 when I was a college sophomore in Morgantown.

Not much was happening in ’79 though – unless you count the talent on board. Frank Cignetti was in his fourth and final year as coach. The team finished 5-6 and chalked up two of the wins against Richmond and Tulane. Yet there was a sophomore quarterback on the team named Oliver Luck. Running backs included Robert Alexander and Walter Easley. On defense were senior Jerry Holmes, junior Fulton Walker and freshman Darryl Talley. If you’re reading this, odds are you know about all.

The other years, however, were memorable — one way or another. And all had one thing in common – a memorable Backyard Brawl. Which I miss. The return of the series – which begins for four games in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 – can’t get here fast enough.

Let’s reminisce by hopping around a bit.

In 1999, the Don Nehlen era was coming to a close. In the coach’s penultimate season, the Mountaineers finished 4-7 despite having Marc Bulger at quarterback, who handed the ball to the school’s all-time rushing leader in Avon Coubourne and threw to wideouts Jerry Porter and Khori Ivy as well as tight end Anthony Becht. Bulger played 10 years in the NFL and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, once earning the game’s MVP award. Becht was a first-round pick and played 11 years in the NFL. Porter played nine years in the NFL after being taken by Oakland in the second round. On defense, there was Barrett Green, who played five years in the NFL.

Anyway, that 1999 team could only defeat Miami (Ohio), Rutgers, Temple and – you guessed it – Pitt. The Mountaineers were limping to the season’s finish line with three losses, but scored a feel-good 52-21 victory on ESPN that probably convinced Nehlen to stay one more season.

That Brawl, however, pales to those of 1989 and 2009.

In ’89, West Virginia was coming off its first 11-win season and had Heisman Trophy candidate Major Harris back for his junior year. The Mountaineers entered the season ranked No. 17 and were cruising, rolling up victories over Ball State, Maryland, South Carolina and Louisville and climbing to No. 9.


Pitt, ranked No. 10 at the time, visited with Grafton native Alex Van Pelt at the controls. The Mountaineers went up 31-9 and held that lead into the fourth quarter — before all fell apart for the hosts.

Pittsburgh scored 22 straight, kicker Ed Frazier booted a 42-yard field goal as time expired and the result was a 31-31 tie. WVU would lose at home to Virginia Tech, 12-10, the next week and later at Penn State, 19-9, and to Clemson, 27-7, in the Gator Bowl. The Mountaineers finished No. 21 after sky-high preseason expectations.

The 2009 Backyard Brawl, however, was a turnabout. With Bill Stewart coaching, Jarrett Brown at QB and Noel Devine at running back, the Mountaineers beat No. 9 Pitt in Morgantown 19-16. WVU kicker Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 43-yard field as time expired in the most watched football game ever to that point on ESPN2.

West Virginia finished 9-4 that year after losing to Florida State in Bobby Bowden’s last game as the Seminoles coach.

All of which makes me crave another Backyard Brawl. And, forget lunch, makes me even hungrier for football.


Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, be sure to call us at 304-905-6005.



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