West Virginia and Virginia Tech played for bragging rights of the Appalachian region for decades, first meeting in 1912, becoming regular rivals in the 1950s and then turning it into an annual affair in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Mountaineers and Hokies joined the Big East together in 1991. In 1997, they added a trophy to the rivalry. And in 1999 Virginia Tech great Michael Vick pulled of “The Miracle in Morgantown.”
Then, as with so many rivalries in the 2000s, conference realignment sent the participants their separate ways. Virginia Tech joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. A few years later West Virginia went to the Big 12. The Hokies and Mountaineers played for the 51st time in 2005, but have not since.
Time to dust off that Black Diamond Trophy. No. 21 Virginia Tech and No. 22 West Virginia renew their rivalry Sunday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
“These programs parallel each other in a lot of ways as far as the blue collar mentality, the toughness of the kids,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who has been with the Hokies for 30 years and will be coaching against the Mountaineers for the 20th time. “Got a lot of respect for this program who we’re about to play but I’m excited that this rivalry is kicking back off again.”
While Foster goes way back with the rivalry, the current head coaches are newbies. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is starting his seventh season with the Mountaineers and coming off one of his best. West Virginia went 10-3 last season and Holgorsen earned a five-year contract extensions.
Justin Fuente is in his second season leading the Hokies. Year one went great. Virginia Tech went 10-3 and won the ACC Coastal Division, behind a first-time starting quarterback in Jerod Evans. To defend its title, Fuente will again have to turn a new starter into a star. Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson, the son of former longtime Michigan assistant coach Fred Jackson, will lead the Hokies’ offense after winning a three-way competition.
The coach who Fuente replaced will also be at the home of the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. Frank Beamer will be the honorary captain for the Hokies, and West Virginia Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen will do the honors for the Mountaineers. The two faced off in this rivalry 14 times, with Beamer’s Hokies winning nine.
This game is a one-off, not the restart of a yearly tradition, but the Mountaineers and Hokies do have a home-and-home series scheduled for 2021 and 2022. West Virginia-Virginia Tech might feel more like a rivalry to fans than to the 18-22 year olds playing, but Foster said he has been trying to educate the millennials.
“I want the kids to understand this has been a true rivalry. There is an expectation of how to play the game when these two play as far as a tough hardnosed, physical football game and I don’t expect it to be any different this year,” he said.
More things to know about the 52nd meeting between the Hokies and Mountaineers.
NEW QBS: West Virginia also has a new starting quarterback, but with more experience. Florida transfer Will Grier has not played since the middle of the 2015 season. He was suspended for violating NCAA rules on performance-enhancing drugs and then left Gainesville. He showed big potential with the Gators, passing for 1,202 yards and 10 touchdowns in six games.
“He is pretty eager to get back into the swing of things. He was 6-0 as a starter at Florida and he wants to get out there and see if he has still got it,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “I am pretty fired up to go watch him do his thing.”
HAMMERIN’ HOKIE: Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is the leader of what Foster expects to be another excellent Hokies’ defense, and one of the best linebackers in the country. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior had 18.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks, last season. His brother, safety Terrell Edmunds, also starts and four interceptions.
OKLAHOMA TIES: Both Fuente and Spavital played quarterback for Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fuente led the state in passing yards and touchdowns in his senior season in 1994. Spavital led Union to a state championship in 2002 and said he grew up idolizing Fuente.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP