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WVU had this rematch planned all along

December 31, 2003|by BOB FLEENOR

It can now be revealed that Maryland's 34-7 victory over West Virginia on Sept. 20 in College Park was not the slobberknocking it appeared to be.

The Terps went Torquemada on the Mountaineers that night, putting them through two hours and 45 minutes of medieval torture. Ashton Kutcher couldn't have punk'd WVU more thoroughly.

Or so we thought.

Who could have imagined that, three months later, West Virginia would be on its way not only to a New Year's Day bowl, but a Jan. 1 rematch with the very same Maryland team?

Coach Rich Rodriguez and his squad, that's who.

Here at Conspiracy Central, we contend that the Mountaineers purposely tanked that game - and probably their losses to the Terps in 2002 and 2001 as well - in order to set up a haughty, overconfident Maryland team for a nationally televised fall in the Gator Bowl.

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Their scheme was so outlandish, even Oliver Stone would have rejected it as a movie script.

To establish the ruse, the Mountaineers had to play so wretchedly early in the season (losing to Cincinnati was a master stroke) that all but their most loyal fans would turn on them.

Then, for the second straight year, WVU's defense permitted Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien - a former Mountaineer reserve who left Morgantown on the eve of Rodriguez's first season - to play like the second coming of Davey O'Brien.

The Mountaineers were circling the drain. And with No. 2-ranked Miami next on the schedule, a beat-up and beaten-down WVU team figured to be merely a trailer park in the Hurricanes' path.

But that's when Phase 2 of Operation Frosted Fridge kicked in and West Virginia revealed itself to be the championship-caliber club it had been all along ... but had chosen not to be.

For proof, fast-forward the videotape to the most-replayed and closely studied footage since the Zapruder film.

Two minutes to play. WVU, trailing 19-13, faces third-and-13 from the Miami 33. Quarterback Rasheed Marshall dumps the ball - back, and to the left - to running back Quincy Wilson, who is doomed to be thrown for a loss by Miami man-mountain Vince Wilfork.

Seconds later, Wilfork is sprawled on the Orange Bowl turf looking for a certain size XXXXXL athletic undergarment, 'Canes cornerback Brandon Meriweather is lying prone on the 9-yard-line with a footprint in his chest and Wilson is in the end zone.

Had West Virginia clung to that sudden 20-19 lead, it would have won the Big East title outright and be Orange Bowl-bound. But as their grand plan called for a rematch with Maryland - and knowing the Terps weren't going to qualify for a BCS bowl - the Mountaineers allowed Miami to pull out a last-minute victory.

WVU, now 1-4, had to run the table to get that second shot at Maryland. No sweat. The way the Mountaineers cut a swath through their remaining opponents would have made William Tecumseh Sherman envious.

They got the nation's attention with a 28-7 spanking of then-No. 3 Virginia Tech, without question the 21st century's most overrated college football program.

The best analogy of WVU's 52-31 romp over Pitt (no self-respecting Mountaineer fan says "Pittsburgh") in the Backyard Brawl is the scene in "A Christmas Story" in which Ralphie pounds Scut Farkus into tearful submission.

A 7-0 finish earned WVU its Gator Bowl bid and, more significantly, a share of the Big East title. Maryland, to its credit, won nine of its final 10 games to hold up its end of the deal.

Coach Ralph Friedgen claims his Terps are better now then they were in September. Agreed. I'll even concede that Maryland was the best opponent WVU faced all season.

But the West Virginia team Maryland will see in Jacksonville bears little resemblance to the WVU squad that slunk out of Byrd Stadium that long-ago night - and not just because the Mountaineers have put their gold uniform pants in mothballs.

The freshman-heavy offensive line has been reconfigured into a cohesive force, giving Wilson and Kay-Jay Harris room to run and the oft-criticized Marshall time to fling the ball downfield. And when 'Sheed puts it in the air, 6-foot-4 wideout Chris Henry - the Big East's Rookie of the Year - usually snares it for a gain of 30 yards or more.

In September, consensus All-America linebacker Grant Wiley played heroically - but essentially alone - on defense against the Terps. He has plenty of help now.

The key move was Brian King's shift from cornerback to safety, giving sophomore Adam "Pac-Man" Jones a place in the lineup. Both have prospered, as King intercepted six passes and Jones scored two defensive TDs during WVU's late-season run.

King, McBrien's former roomie at WVU, is 0-for-2 against his best friend. But the third time around, it'll be good to be the King.

If you're having a game-watching party on New Year's Day, may I suggest a hearty bowl of vichyssoise - which, like revenge, is best served cold.

Bon apetit, Mountaineer fans!




Bob Fleenor, a former Morning Herald sports editor, used to have the authority to tell Dave Elliott what to write, but those days are long gone. He also likes the smell of burning upholstery in the morning.

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