By Cam Huffman
— Now, this one’s a rivalry.
While fans, players and coaches from West Virginia and Marshall spent way too much time in the months, weeks and days leading up to the final Friends of Coal Bowl earlier this month debating whether the football meeting between the state’s two Division I football teams should actually be termed a rivalry, few will argue about the series between Maryland and WVU.
The main knock against the Marshall-WVU series was competitiveness. Sure, the two schools are close on a map, but the Mountaineers have come away with a win every time they’ve played. That doesn’t exactly lead to intrigue.
That’s certainly not the case in the Maryland-WVU series. The Mountaineers and Terrapins have shared more back-and-forth blows than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
There have been a few streaks in the series. Maryland won six straight from 1949 through 1966, four straight from 1984 until 1987 and Ralph Friedgen won his first four against Rich Rodriguez from 2001 through 2004.
West Virginia finally broke through, though, in 2005 when Chris Henry caught a touchdown pass from Rasheed Marshall in the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 19-16 overtime triumph. That started a string of six straight WVU wins that the Mountaineers will take into Saturday’s meeting with the Terps, scheduled for a noon kickoff from Milan Puskar Stadium.
That run of Ws also gave WVU control of the overall series, which it leads 24-21-2. The Mountaineers are 12-9-1 all-time against the Terps in Morgantown.
Along with the competitiveness, geography also makes things interesting when WVU and Maryland get together. In West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, which borders Maryland, there is no bigger game than the one that will be played Saturday. Mountaineer fans in towns like Charles Town, Martinsburg and Romney live among the Terrapin faithful, and many of them drive to The Old Line State each day for work.
It’s much the same on the Maryland side, where towns like Cumberland contain as many Mountaineer fans as Terp fans.
“We’re neighboring states that go way back, and it’s the one existing game that’s going to continue to be played,” said Holgorsen, alluding to the fact that rivalries with schools like Virginia Tech and Penn State have disappeared over the years and even WVU’s oldest and most intense rivalry, The Backyard Brawl with Pitt, has an uncertain future. “I’ve made reference a lot to the nonconference schedule needing to be very regional. The James Madison thing over (at FedEx Field in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Landover, Md.) was tremendous for our fans. We had a great following. The attendance was awesome; the support was awesome.
“Last year was the same thing going to Maryland. Going to play Maryland next year in the Ravens’ stadium is going to be the same situation as it was for our fans a couple days ago. We want to play regional games, and this one is going to remain on the schedule, because it does have so much meaning.”
The makeup of the WVU roster also has an impact on the series. WVU has 10 Maryland natives on the list — many of them like Tavon Austin, Jeff Braun, Ryan Clarke and Terrence Garvin significant contributors — as well as others from nearby Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.
“We have a dozen or so guys from Maryland that are going to know a lot of their players, and we go up against Maryland in recruiting a lot,” said Holgorsen. “So there’s going to be a lot of familiarity between the two programs.”
That familiarity has led to some interesting storylines in the past. Steve Slaton had long wanted to be a Maryland Terrapin and actually accepted a scholarship offer to the school. But when Maryland found it had too many running backs committed, it pulled the offer. Slaton ended up at WVU, where he rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and 57 touchdowns on his way to a pair of BCS bowl victories and then the NFL. In two games against Maryland, he racked up 332 yards and five touchdowns, and WVU won both contests.
Owen Schmitt also wanted to go to Maryland, and when he decided to transfer from Wisconsin-River Falls he first sent his tape to the Terrapin coaching staff, which didn’t view the fullback as a Division I player.
The tape eventually found its way to Morgantown, and the WVU coaches took a chance. After three seasons with the Mountaineers, Schmitt rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, becoming a WVU folk hero in the process.
Before that it was the story of Scott McBrien that took over the series. The Rockville, Md., native was supposed to be WVU’s next big quarterback, but when Rodriguez arrived back in Morgantown in 2001, with his new “Spot the Ball” offense, the more mobile Rasheed Marshall quickly moved in front.
McBrien decided to transfer to Maryland, and after sitting out the 2001 season he got revenge on the Mountaineers.
His first appearance came in Morgantown in 2002, and he led the Terps to a 48-17 win. The next year in College Park, Md., McBrien dominated again as the Mountaineers went down 34-7. The teams ended up meeting again in the Gator Bowl that same season, and McBrien again came through, throwing for 381 yards as Maryland ran away with its second win over WVU that year.
McBrien’s name quickly became a four-letter word in the Mountain State.
What will the next chapter of the series hold? Will the Mountaineers win their seventh straight over the Terps and take the longest winning streak in the series history, or will Maryland shock the Mountaineers and, similar to another rival five years ago, end WVU’s dreams of a national championship?
It’s questions like these — not a fancy name, a sponsor or a coach’s insistence — that truly make a rivalry.
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The Big 12 Conference announced Monday that WVU’s Big 12 opener against Baylor on Sept. 20 will be played at noon and aired on the FX television network.