1982 Win Over OU Put Stamp On Mountaineer Program
First meeting in 25 years
Dec. 22, 2007
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - With West Virginia and Oklahoma set to play in the Fiesta Bowl in their first meeting in 25 years, some ex-Mountaineers are looking back with pride on one of the program's benchmark wins.
Jeff Hostetler made his West Virginia debut a success in the 1982 season opener, throwing for 321 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Mountaineers to a 41-27 win over the ninth-ranked Sooners in Norman, Okla., in a game featuring future Hall of Fame coaches.
"That game pretty much put West Virginia on the map as a major college football team as far as I'm concerned," former Mountaineers coach Don Nehlen said. "That was a big, big, big victory, especially when it was out there. Nobody gave us any kind of a chance."
An independent at the time, West Virginia was a decade from joining the Big East and was looking for any measure of national respect.
The Mountaineers were coming off a 9-3 season in 1981 that included a Peach Bowl win over Florida and were two years into Nehlen's arrival from Michigan, where he was an assistant under Bo Schembechler.
Nehlen had plenty of talent on his team, among them the Penn State transfer Hostetler, who would go on to win a Super Bowl with the New York Giants; linebacker Darryl Talley, a future standout with the Buffalo Bills; and wide receiver Willie Drewrey, who would go on to play for the Houston Oilers.
Going to Oklahoma had West Virginia at a distinct disadvantage. The Mountaineers were unaccustomed to playing in the heat, especially that early in the season. Four years earlier West Virginia was pounded 52-10 by the Sooners and that loss was still fresh in the Mountaineers' memory.
It was so hot on the field that players could see the steam rising in a four-foot wave off the turf. Fans cracked jokes at the players as they were ready to run out for warmups.
"These two old guys were up in the stands and they were like, 'Boy, it sure is hot. I'm glad I've got some water here,"' WVU running back Curlin Beck said.
Nehlen had used the to study the Sooners and concluded he needed to retool his defense to stop Oklahoma's wishbone attack.
"That was a very difficult formation for us to emulate in practice," Nehlen said. "They had two great tailbacks and a fullback who weighed 240. We didn't have those kind of kids on the scout team."
He also buttered up the media by saying he didn't think his team could hold up in the Oklahoma heat.
"There wasn't any question we were nervous. Oklahoma just had so much more speed and we had to go out there in September," Nehlen said.
He told his team to ignore the newspapers. He was confident of his players' stamina and his staff preached in the months leading up to the game that if the Mountaineers were within 10 points at halftime, they would win.
Hostetler was making his first start in place of the departed Oliver Luck. West Virginia quickly fell behind 14-0 but scored the next 20 points, including 10 in the final 13 seconds of the first half.
"Our kids were so jacked at halftime, we couldn't even talk to them," Nehlen said.
Oklahoma came back to tie the game at 27-27 after Darrell Songy blocked a punt and Keith Stanberry recovered the ball in the end zone.
But it was all West Virginia in the fourth quarter.
Hostetler threw his fourth scoring pass of the day, a 9-yarder to Wayne Brown, and Beck ran 43 yards untouched on a draw play near the end of the game.
"They were very good that day and deserved to win," former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said recently. "Obviously, anybody that beats Oklahoma is usually pretty good at the time. We were kind of down for Oklahoma, but we were still a pretty good football team."
A state police escort brought the West Virginia team buses back to campus, where they were greeted by thousands of fans.
"I was afraid to get out," Nehlen said. "The students were rocking the buses. It was a wild party coming into Morgantown."
The Switzer-led Sooners would get shut out by Southern Cal at home a few weeks later and finished the season 8-4, including a loss to Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl.
West Virginia had gone to eight bowls in its history before Nehlen's arrival, and he took the Mountaineers to an unprecedented four straight from 1981 to 1984. West Virginia earned a Gator Bowl berth after the 1982 season against Florida State, losing 31-12.
In 1988, Nehlen brought West Virginia its first 11-0 regular season and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to play top-ranked Notre Dame. The Irish won 34-21.
Both Nehlen and Switzer still live near their former schools. Nehlen stepped down in 2000 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006, four years after Switzer.
Hostetler would marry Nehlen's daughter, Vicky, and become neighbors with his father-in-law near Morgantown.