5 for the 10s is a four-part series reflecting on the most memorable West Virginia athletics players, games, news and events of the concluding decade of the 2010s.
Second of four parts: In this installment, we rank the Top 5 West Virginia victories of the decade. These might not all be the most important wins of the decade (some are), but they’re the five most satisfying/fun victories.
5. West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 (Football, Morgantown, September 29, 2012)
This was WVU’s first conference game as a member of the Big 12. The Mountaineers announced their presence with authority.
The Mountaineers and Bears put up record-breaking, video game numbers as WVU broke numerous offensive records in the victory. Quarterback Geno Smith set school marks in yards (656) and touchdowns (8) and the teams broke each school’s record for total points in a game. WVU receiver Stedman Baily also made his imprint on the Mountaineers record book, setting new marks in single-game yards (303) and touchdowns (5).
The teams were tied at 35 at the half, but West Virginia broke out with 21 unanswered points to start the second half. But the Baylor offense, led by quarterback Nick Florence (581 yards) rallied back, twice pulling to within on score.
But Smith and the Mountaineers offense kept the Bears at arm’s length. After Baylor pulled to within 70-63, WVU never relinquished the ball and ran out the clock to victory.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, this inaugural Big 12 conference game was not a harbinger of good things to come for the 2012 season. After beating Texas in Austin, Texas, the following week and being ranked No. 5 in the country, the Mountaineers proceeded to lose six of their next eight games to finish 7-6 (4-5 in the Big 12).
But regardless of how that season turned out, Mountaineers fans will always remember this epic shootout in Motown.
4. West Virginia 42, Texas 41 (Football, Austin, Texas, November 3, 2018)
Morgantown and Austin, Texas are 1,193 miles apart as the crow flies, but a pair of southward turned “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs cemented the WVU-Texas rivalry.
The clash of 13th ranked West Virginia and 17th ranked Texas took place in Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium. It was a critical matchup for both teams as the loser’s chances to making the Big 12 Championship game were slim.
Trailing 41-34, West Virginia had first and 10 at the Texas 33-yard line with 23 seconds left. Quarterback Will Grier threw caution to the wind and the ball in the air, laying a beautiful rainbow pass into the waiting arms of receiver Gary Jennings in the back of the end zone with 16 seconds left to pull the Mountaineers to within 41-40.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, trusting Grier and the offense much more than his struggling defense, decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.
But even that seemingly simple 3-yard play didn’t go easily in this game. Grier hit receiver David Sills on a slant pattern that seemed to give WVU the successful try and the victory. But Texas coach Tom Herman had called time out before the play, so the Grier to Sills pitch and catch went for naught.
Despite the cancellation of a successful try, Holgorsen stuck with his decision and the offense tried for 2 again. This time, Grier stepped up in the pocket, pumped, then ran towards the left front corner of the end zone, crossing the goal line untouched to give West Virginia a 42-41 lead and the win.
Upon scoring the winning conversion, Grier and Jennings taunted the Texas fans, turning the iconic Texas “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs downward for the infamous “Horns Down” signal. WVU was assessed with a 15-yard penalty that was well worth the revenge.
The Grier pass and run broke Longhorns fans hearts – and Fox play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson’s vocal cords.
3. West Virginia 60, Georgetown 58 (Basketball, Big East Tournament Championship Game, New York, March 14, 2010)
West Virginia won its first and only Big East Conference Tournament title in the same fashion it won some many games in 2010 – on a Da’Sean Butler game-winning shot.
Butler’s shot with four seconds left snapped a 58-all tie and propelled the Mountaineers to their only conference tournament title in the last 36 years.
Butler scored 20 points in the finals and was named tournament MVP. He also hit the game-winning shot in the Mountaineers 54-51 opening-game victory over Cincinnati.
The tournament title victory in Madison Square Garden was a homecoming for numerous Mountaineers who grew up in the New York area, including Butler, Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks, Truck Bryant and Danny Jennings.
In the first half of the victory over Georgetown, Butler joined Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley as the only 2,000-point scorers in WVU history.
2. West Virginia 70, Clemson 33 (Football, Orange Bowl, Miami, January 4, 2012)
West Virginia’s last game as a Big East member was certainly memorable.
The Mountaineers scored a then bowl record 70 points in a thrashing of ACC champion Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Ironically, in a game in which the West Virginia offense broke records like toothpicks, it was a play by the Mountaineers defense that turned the tide.
With WVU leading, 21-17, early in the second quarter, Clemson had driven the ball to the Mountaineers 1 and was set to punch in the go-ahead touchdown. But West Virginia’s Darwin Cook recovered an Andre Ellington fumble and returned it 99 yards for the score, turning a sure-deficit into a 28-17 lead.
After that, it was all Mountaineers. West Virginia outscored Clemson, 35-3 – in the second quarter.
Quarterback Geno Smith threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns. Tavon Austin had 163 combined rushing and receiving yards and four touchdowns, many on quick jet-sweep shovel passes that the speedy Austin turned into big gains.
The powerful Clemson offense, led by quarterback Taj Boyd and future first-round pick receiver Sammy Watkins, had a more-than respectable night. The Tigers scored 33 points and racked up 440 yards of total offense.
But that normally spectacular output paled in comparison to the 70 points and 589 yards put up by West Virginia.
The win snapped a two-game bowl losing streak for the Mountaineers and was their third BCS bowl win in seven seasons.
It was the first bowl victory for first-year head coach Holgorsen. But like the Baylor shootout victory the next season, the big Orange Bowl effort was not a harbinger of good things to come for Holgorsen – at least in terms of bowls. He would win just one more during his eight-year tenure as Mountaineers coach.
1. West Virginia 73, Kentucky 66 (Basketball, NCAA Tournament, East Region Final, Syracuse, N.Y., March 27, 2010)
This was an amazing victory for the WVU basketball program. It looks even more amazing with almost a decade in the rearview mirror.
The biggest aspect of this victory was, of course, that it sent the Mountaineers to the Final Four for only the second time in their history. But the magnitude of who they beat to earn that berth has grown more impressive as time passes.
West Virginia beat Kentucky. Kentucky, the No. 1 seed in the region (WVU was a second seed). Kentucky, the bluest of the blue bloods in college basketball. A Kentucky team that had eight future NBA players. A Kentucky team that set a record with five players drafted in the first round of that year’s draft (John Wall, first; DeMarcus Cousins, fifth; Patrick Patterson, 14th; Eric Bledsoe, 18th; Daniel Orton, 29th).
The only player on that WVU team to play in the NBA was Devin Ebanks. Ebanks played parts of three seasons for the Lakers at the beginning of the decade. Wall, Cousins, Patterson and Bledsoe are still playing 10 years later.
Upsetting that stacked Kentucky is arguably the best coaching job of WVU coach Bob Huggins illustrious career.
West Virginia starting point guard Truck Bryant was injured and not playing. His replacement, Joe Mazzulla, chose the perfect time to play the best game of his career. Mazzulla scored 17 points and was a defensive thorn in Wall’s side all night of the Mountaineers upset win.
It wasn’t only Mazzulla who turned in an out-of-character offensive showcase. The 2009-10 Mountaineers, like most Huggins teams, were known for their defensive toughness and rebounding. They weren’t good outside shooters. But on this night, they were.
WVU hit eight 3 pointers in the first half – and no 2 pointers. Kentucky, on the other hand, was awful shooting against the Mountaineers defense. The Wildcats missed their first 20 3-point shots, finishing 4 for 32 (12.5 percent) from behind the arc.
DaSean Butler, the Mountaineers top scorer, led them with 18 points. He was just 4 of 15 from the field but hit 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.
Watching the Mountaineers cut down the nets in the Carrier Dome as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” blared from the loudspeakers and the throats of West Virginia fans in attendance capped off the Mountaineers best win of the decade.
Honorable mention: West Virginia 69, Oklahoma 67 (Basketball, 2016 Big 12 Tournament semifinals); West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27 (Football 2014); West Virginia 83, Notre Dame 71 (Basketball, 2017 NCAA Tournament second round); West Virginia 21, Pitt 20 (Football 2011)