Looking back at the 2008 Fiesta Bowl

me-in-fiesta-bowl-shirtI was excited to hear we were going to stripe the stadium for our Big 12 season opener against Oklahoma on Sept. 20. Since our seats are in the gold section, I have the perfect t-shirt. I bought it in Phoenix the day after we smacked the Sooners 48-28 in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

I’m sure you’ll recall that glorious 2007 season when we were expecting to go to the national championship title game for the first time since 1989.

But alas, we suffered a soul-crushing loss to our archrival Pitt in the final game of the season, which knocked us out of the top 10. About 2 weeks later, our perfidious head coach went slinking off to Michigan.

So, just like this upcoming weekend, we were the underdog against No. 4 Oklahoma going into the Fiesta Bowl. The Sooners were hot, entering the bowl game with all kinds of momentum after trouncing the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Missouri Tigers.

However, sports analysts underestimated the heart and drive of our wickedly talented Mountaineers. But not interim head coach Bill Stewart. His “Leave no doubt” speech still gives me chills.

I flew out to Phoenix on New Year’s Day for the Jan. 2 bowl game. I stayed with my old college roommates Jill and Steve Besendorfer, who live in Tempe, and a group of us headed to the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale early that morning. WVU Fiesta Bowl 2008 054 Once we got there, we had all day to tailgate since the game didn’t start until 8 p.m.

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On our way into the stadium, we met the iconic Budweiser Clydesdale Horses.

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It was clear from the start of the game that our Mountaineers came loaded for bear. Midway through the second quarter, our esteemed fullback Owen Schmitt broke a career-long 57-yard touchdown run to put the Mountaineers ahead 13-3. Sportscaster Matt Vasgersian described the play perfectly when he referred to the 6-3, 260-lb. Schmitt as a “runaway beer truck.” Owen Schmitt's 57-yard touchdown run in 2008 Fiesta Bowl By the end of the first half, the Sooners trailed the Mountaineers 20-6. WVU Fiesta Bowl 2008 088 The Sooners were no match for the Mountaineers renowned speed and potent spread offense, guided by our beloved quarterback Pat White. In fact, the Mountaineers gained 349 yards on the ground, the most rushing yards ever gained against a Bob Stoops-led Oklahoma team. In 2012, the Mountaineers broke that record when they rushed for 458 yards against Oklahoma. WVU Fiesta Bowl 2008 081 And White’s 79-yard touchdown pass to Tito Gonzales in the 4th quarter was the longest in WVU’s bowl history. In fact, White’s stellar performance earned him Offensive Player of the Game. All in all, he ran for 150 yards and threw for 176 and 2 touchdowns. WVU Fiesta Bowl 2008 079 At the end of the game, Mountaineer Nation erupted into loud celebratory cheers, and White endorsed Stewart as the permanent successor to Rich Rodriguez.

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So as we head into our matchup against the Sooners this Saturday, our team should remember this monumental win. If they want it bad enough, they can beat Oklahoma. In the words of the late Bill Stewart: “It’s real simple. You out block ’em. You out tackle ’em. You out hit ’em. And you out hustle ’em.” It’s Mountaineer Pride.

Let’s all sing John Denver’s “Country Roads, Take Me Home” at the end of the game.

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