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Hokies, WVU play football again

During coach Don Nehlen's tenure at West Virginia University, there weren't too many games bigger than Virginia Tech.

"It was a real rivalry,'' said Nehlen during a phone interview Wednesday. "It didn't matter what their record was when they came to Morgantown, the stadium was filled. It didn't matter what our record was when we went to Blacksburg, the stadium was filled. Our fans loved the game and their fans loved the game.''

The cross-border rivalry returns to the WVU football schedule as Mountaineers athletic director Oliver Luck announced Wednesday a two-game agreement between the schools beginning in 2021. The series was halted in 2005 a few years after the Hokies left the Big East Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"During my three years as athletic director at West Virginia University, I have heard from legions of Mountaineer fans, particularly those in the southern part of the state, who have expressed their strong sentiments to renew the football rivalry with Virginia Tech," said Luck in a press release.

"This game is great for college football. We all know that the two schools have extraordinary fan bases, and both schools will be counting down the days until the Hokies and the Mountaineers meet again.''

The schools will again battle for the Black Diamond Trophy, starting with the 2021 game in Morgantown on Sept. 18. The second year of the deal will take place in 2022 in Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 24.

The Black Diamond Trophy, which was started in 1997, went to the winner of the annual game and was used as a symbol of the Appalachian region's rich coal history.

"I think that's great,'' said Nehlen of the Hokies getting back on the WVU schedule. "They were on our schedule every single year for 21 years.

"It was just a great game and a great rivalry. They were playing them long before I got here, too. I just hope I'm around to see it. That's a long way off, but it's a start.''

WVU last played Virginia Tech in 2005, with the Hokies claiming a 34-17 decision in Morgantown. The series eventually ended as Virginia Tech left the Big East to begin its current membership in the ACC.

The Mountaineers and Hokies played in 2004 and 2005, but those were non-conference games. When the series resumes in 2021, there will have been a 16-year hiatus in the border rivalry.

"It makes it so hard to schedule them,'' said Nehlen of the conference realignments that have taken place.

"I hope they can make it so we can play them even more. Whenever I traveled the state and got anywhere from Charleston and south, that was a big, big, big game. It was bigger to them than Pitt.''

The series has been played 51 times, beginning in 1912 with West Virginia owning a 28-22-1 overall advantage. The Mountaineers own a 16-9 record in games played in Morgantown and 5-1 in games played at a neutral site, while Virginia Tech has a 12-7-1 mark in games played in Blacksburg.

The most current portion of the series was played every year from 1973-2005, a span of 33 years. The Mountaineers edged the Hokies during that time 17-16.

The WVU-Virginia Tech series also featured some of the most notable names in college football annuals. One in particular stuck out for Nehlen on Wednesday.

Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal as time expired lifted Virginia Tech to a 22-20 come-from-behind victory over West Virginia in 1999 that kept the Hokies' national title hopes alive. Setting up Graham's game-winning kick was freshman quarterback Michael Vick, who tight-roped his way past the entire Mountaineer defense for a 26-yard run when he appeared to be bottled up along the sideline.

"Michael Vick got away from us,'' said Nehlen. "I remember that run.''

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at 304-348-4811 or tatkinson@wvgazette.com.


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