Rewind to January 2, 2008, Glendale, Arizona. The 11th ranked 9-2 West Virginia Mountaineers from the Big East played the 11-1 #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners from the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Having suffered the worst loss in team history – a devastating 13-9 loss to rival Pitt in the 100th edition of the Backyard Brawl – the team could have folded and given up on the season. In addition, the Mountaineers lost their head coach when Rich Rodriguez decided to leave to take over at Michigan.
Assistant coach Bill Stewart was named the interim head coach for the game and gave the most impassioned, memorable speech in West Virginia history, the “Leave No Doubt” pre-game speech to his players.
The ass-kicking that the Mountaineers gave Oklahoma that day was certainly impressive and one of the best games in West Virginia history, but it’s the way in which they did it that really stands out.
A 48-28 beatdown of one of the best teams in the nation, compiling 349 rushing yards while shutting down the explosive Sooners’ offense was shocking and unexpected and exactly what Mountaineer Nation needed after losing its head coach and losing its biggest game in program history.
Following the game, senior fullback Owen Schmitt said it best, “I was watching ESPN today and they showed the map about our game tonight in a poll and all of the United States was covered in red. The only state – the greatest state in the nation – was covered in blue and that was West Virginia and that’s why we won this game. We overcame adversity, we came together as a team and that’s why we won.”
When the sideline reporter reminded Schmitt that this would be the final game that he would play in a Mountaineer uniform, he started to cry and said, “You have no idea. I love this state. I love that I got a chance to play here. This is awesome and this is the way that I pictured it. I promised my teammates that I wasn’t going to go out without this trophy and we did it.”
That moment, watching Owen Schmitt, a player who gave his heart and soul to the West Virginia football program during his time in Morgantown, gave me chills then and still does to this day.
He had a lot of great moments as a Mountaineer – bashing his helmet into his forehead before and during games, leaving his head bloody, to get himself fired up for games, his 57 yard touchdown during the aforementioned Fiesta Bowl, when the announcer compared him to a “runaway beer truck” – but Owen Schmitt truly became a West Virginia legend in his post game, on the field speech following his last game as a Mountaineer.