MORGANTOWN - Much to the chagrin of area football fans on both sides of the Potomac River, it's been five long years since West Virginia University and the University of Maryland did battle on the gridiron. Their last meeting was a resounding 45-6 victory in Morgantown for the Mountaineers.
By Chapin Jewell
MORGANTOWN - Much to the chagrin of area football fans on both sides of the Potomac River, it’s been five long years since West Virginia University and the University of Maryland did battle on the gridiron. Their last meeting was a resounding 45-6 victory in Morgantown for the Mountaineers.
Five years was five years too long for Mountaineer fans looking for another satisfying victory, and for Maryland fans looking at a chance for some payback.
Mountaineer and Terrapin fans had the date of Sept. 19, 2020, circled on their collective calendars, for on that day the rivalry series was scheduled to resume in Morgantown.
It was, at least, until a recent decision by the Big 10 conference, of which Maryland is a part, resulted in the cancellation of this highly anticipated matchup.
That decision was for all Big 10 teams, in every fall sport, to play schedules consisting only of other Big 10 opponents, with no non-conference play allowed, and thus, the WVU/Maryland game was cancelled.
In fairness, the Big 10 is not alone in their decision to play a conference-only schedule. Shortly after the Big 10’s announcement, the Pac 12 made the same decision. It is clear also that every other major conference, to include the Big 12, of which West Virginia is a part, are considering that same option. The Ivy League has already announced the cancellation of their football season and the NJCAA is weighing moving football to the spring.
Nonetheless, since their conference was the first to take action, we can safely blame Maryland for the cancellation, at least for now, right?
The reality is that nobody is certain whether there will even be a season as the news throughout the country, particularly as it relates to college football, is bleak.
The West Virginia/Maryland rivalry never disappoints, in so far as the hoopla, excitement and energy surrounding a rivalry game. There are several reasons why the Mountaineers and Terrapins are such great rivals; we’ll discuss those in the moment.
For us Mineral Countians in West Virginia and Allegany and Garrett countians in Maryland, it’s personal. We live beside each other, we shop beside each other, we work beside each other. While there may be a few Mineral Countians who have ended up at the University of Maryland, the reality is that there has been a growing number of Allegany and Garrett county students who have ended up at West Virginia University.
There are families that are split, with mom and dad being Maryland grads and their children now West Virginia grads. Even for fan groups attending the games, it is likely that in a party of four, or six, or eight, or whatever the number, a local group traveling to a West Virginia/Maryland game very well may be divided amongst themselves.
In many ways, we treat a West Virginia/Maryland game with the same intensity as we treat a Keyser/Fort Hill or Frankfort/Allegany game. For us, it’s personal, it’s a true border battle.
In terms of the rivalry overall, it’s intense for several reasons, not just the fact that for us the fan bases are neighbors and co-workers. Looking beyond our local region, West Virginia and Maryland have such a strong rivalry mainly because they intensely recruit in the same areas, and the campuses of the two schools are relatively close to one another in the grand scheme of things, being 210 miles apart.
The recruiting battles have been legendary, and have gone on forever. According to ESPN personality and former Maryland assistant coach Lee Corso, during the 1960s, the rivalry “was rally competitive because of the fact that they would sometimes come to Maryland and recruit our players, and we would go to West Virginia and try to recruit some of them. That adds to the rivalry.”
Terps fullback Cory Jackson was a Morgantown native and Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien transferred from West Virginia, frustrated by not starting. It’s worked both ways. Steve Slaton ended up at West Virginia after receiving an offer from Maryland that was eventually revoked. In the case of McBrien, he got back at the Mountaineers in a 2004 Gator Bowl thrashing of the Mountaineers after passing for a school record 381 yards. Slaton got revenge against the Terps in 2007, rushing for 137 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 31-14 victory.
Then there was Mountaineer legend Owen Schmitt, a northern Virginia native whose original desire was to play at Maryland. Maryland, however, showed Schmitt no interest, and the Schmitt ultimately walked on at West Virginia. The rest, as they say, is history. Ironically, Schmitt had what’s been described as his coming out party in a game against Maryland in 2005.
West Virginia leads the series all-time with an overall record of 28-22-2. West Virginia won the inaugural matchup in 1919, blanking Maryland 27-0. West Virginia won the most recent matchup in 2015 by a resounding 45-6.
Over half of the 52 games in the series, 28 to be exact, were played between the years of 1980 and 2007 when the two played continuously, including the 2004 Orange Bowl game. After the first game in 1919, the teams played sporadically. There were six matchups in the 1940s, three contests in the 1950s, three in the 1960s and four in the 1970s.
After the 2007 game, there was a two-year break in 2008 and 2009. The two teams then played continuously from 2010 to 2015, and were set to resume play this year.
One aspect of the game is that it has traditionally been held early in the season. As has been pointed out, while the rivalry isn’t as intense as the Backyard Brawl, the fact that it’s been played early in the season means that it has been traditionally used as a measuring stick for both teams heading into the remainder of the season.
Seven games in the series have been designated as the most notable games.
1949 was the first game in which either team had been ranked. The 15th ranked Terrapins pounded West Virginia 47-7. Six Maryland players scored and the win propelled them to an 8-1 regular season finish and a trip to the 1950 Gator Bowl.
1951 saw the fifth ranked Terrapins again throttle West Virginia by a score of 54-7. Maryland held West Virginia to 21 negative yards on eight rushing attempts. The win preserved Maryland’s undefeated record, their first in 57 years.
In 1977, it was West Virginia’s turn as the Mountaineers defeated 11th ranked Maryland 24-16, ending Maryland’s attempt at a second undefeated season. The WVU win also snapped Maryland’s 15-game regular season win streak. Up 24-0 at halftime, Maryland clawed back to get to within eight points, but were denied a late scoring attempt at the two-yard line late.
In 1982, both teams would ultimately earn top-20 finishes, and West Virginia gained the upper hand with a close 19-18 victory. The game featured future NFL quarterbacks Jeff Hostetler and Boomer Esiason. Maryland attempted a two-point conversion late in the game to win and not force a tie, but WVU snuffed out the attempt, securing the win.
In 1983, 20th ranked West Virginia, again with Hostetler at the helm, defeated 17th ranked Maryland. The loss knocked Maryland out of the top 20. Maryland took an early 10-0 lead but West Virginia tied it before halftime. In the second half, West Virginia was ultimately able to put the game away late.
In 1988, 12th ranked West Virginia defeated Maryland 54-24 in what has been the highest combined score in the series. West Virginia fell behind 14-0 early, then rallied for 17 unanswered points in the first half to take a 17-14 lead. The Mountaineers never looked back in earning the 30-point victory, the first against Maryland since 1983.
Finally, in the 2004 Gator Bowl, Maryland defeated West Virginia 41-7, after already defeating the Mountaineers 34-7 earlier in the 2003 season. This was the first ever Bowl meeting between the two teams. It was Scott McBrien, Maryland’s quarterback, chance to get back at West Virginia and McBrien produced.
While these have been identified as the most notable games in the series, the reality is that all 53 matchups held their own importance, with many, many memories made by fans on both sides over the last 100 plus years.
Everybody was looking to the resumption of the series this year after five long years of the two not playing. Covid-19 and its effects had other plans. While the two won’t meet this year, in fact, the two might not meet any teams this year, who knows, here’s to hoping for future West Virginia/Maryland games. They mean a lot to us.