The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 17, 2012

Win at Syracuse in ’93 was a Nehlen favorite

By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia, ranked No. 11 at the time, smashed Syracuse 43-0 in football on Oct. 30, 1993, in upstate New York in what remains the Orange’s biggest beating in this old, at times bitter rivalry.

It has to be one of the most cherished victories in Hall of Famer Don Nehlen’s 21 years as the Mountaineers’ head coach.

Making that tremendous triumph all the more memorable is the fact that it still stands as the worst whipping the Orange has ever suffered inside the 38-year-old Carrier Dome.

Nehlen remembers it for still another significant — probably more satisfying — reason.

“That was a year after we got cheated in what they called a 20-17 loss to Syracuse in Morgantown,” he recalled. “My record shows me with 202 career wins.

“I guarantee you one thing: I won 203. We won that game in 1992 three times. We were even out on the field celebrating.”

What happened was that the Syracuse quarterback hit a Mountaineer player in the head with the football and that triggered a scuffle.

The officials wound up ejecting the WVU player, but just one SU player, a reserve. And the quarterback responsible for the melee was permitted to stay in the game.

Big East authorities later ruled that the officiating crew didn’t deal with the situation properly. Some members of that crew reportedly were dismissed.

“Our kids remembered that when we went up there in ’93,” Nehlen said. “They never said a word on the bus going to the Carrier Dome. They hadn’t said a word at the pregame meal. In the locker room, most of the time I had to walk around and say, ‘Hey, keep your mind focused.’

“I mean there wasn’t anyone even saying much. That was a determined bunch of guys as we’ve ever had.”

After moving ahead by just 7-0 at halftime, the Mountaineers tallied 10 points in the third quarter, then exploded for 26 points in the final period.

It had to be a shocking night for the crowd of 49,268.

“I remember that with about five or six minutes left in the game, my kids wanted to score more points,” Nehlen said.

“We had pretty much emptied the bench. But the players wanted to get 50 points because they remembered the year before.”

That turned out to be the most decisive victory of the year as the 1993 team finished the regular season 11-0 for only the second time in WVU history.

It was sort of a strange contest, though.

West Virginia’s high-powered offense rolled up 657 total yards, including 446 rushing, on 85 plays.

All the while, a punishing, hard-hitting defense limited Syracuse to a mere 188 yards in total offense and just 54 plays.

First downs were 35-10.

The Mountaineers were so dominating that they averaged 7.7 yards per play compared to just 3.5 for the Orange.

And WVU did not punt a single time.

Tailback Robert Walker rushed 26 times for a career-high 198 yards, including a 90-yard gallop for the fourth touchdown that made the score 30-0 with 9:41 left in the game.

Walker had scored the second TD midway of the third quarter, ending a 66-yard, seven-play drive.

Quarterback Jake Kelchner had run seven yards for the first touchdown with 5:33 to go in the opening quarter. That capped an 87-yard, 15-play drive.

Surprisingly, that TD was all the scoring for the first half.

Tom Mazzone kicked a 36-yard field goal early in the third quarter before Walker’s long run set the stage for the closing spree.

Kelchner passed 21 yards to wide receiver Rahsaan Vanterpool for the third touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Darren Studstill scored on a 3-yard keeper play for the fifth touchdown, and fourth-stringer Jeff Nixon got the last score on a 2-yard run with 5:54 left.

Kelchner solidified his status as the NCAA passing efficiency leader. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 191 yards. Eight different Mountaineers caught passes, with Mike Baker gaining 66 yards on just four receptions.

Wes Richardson led the stingy WVU defense with nine tackles. Tim Brown and Matt Taffoni had eight tackles each.

Charles Emanuel had his first career interception. Harold Kidd came up with a fumble recovery.

If you want to call it a sugar-coated payback, Don Nehlen won’t mind.