Though it hasn’t run nearly as long as the Backyard Brawl, the rivalry between West Virginia and Virginia Tech still has a great impact on the players, coaches and fans for both teams.
Thursday’s contest in Blacksburg, Virginia, will mark the 54th meeting between the two schools, as the teams will be gunning for possession of the Black Diamond Trophy at 7:30 p.m on ESPN.
“This is one that’s definitely important to our fan base,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “Guys that played last year felt that with (the game) being in our stadium. It’s gonna be a great atmosphere down in Blacksburg, no doubt. It’s one of the best places to play in college football.
“It’s also the only game in the regular season that we play for a trophy. The Black Diamond Trophy makes it even more special.”
The Mountaineers currently hold the Black Diamond Trophy, which was introduced into the rivalry in 1997 to symbolize the Appalachian region’s rich coal heritage, after edging the Hokies 27-21 last season.
The victory snapped Virginia Tech’s three-game win streak in the rivalry. West Virginia now leads the all-time series with a record of 29-23-1.
This matchup, which will be the teams’ first contest in Blacksburg since Oct. 2, 2004, will also mark Brown’s first-ever trip to Virginia Tech as a player or coach.
“I’ve never been to Virginia Tech, but I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “We have multiple coaches that have played there. I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
West Virginia and Virginia Tech’s rivalry began in 1912, with the teams meeting a total of 53 times up until last season, including going head-to-head every year from 1973 to 2005.
But, after playing just once in between 2005 and 2021, the schools are now attempting to rekindle the importance of the rivalry.
Brown said the Mountaineers’ season opener against Pittsburgh will help give his team a confidence boost heading into Thursday, since it will be West Virginia’s second nationally televised game in only four weeks.
“Without question,” Brown said. “Credit to Pitt, they did a great job from a game management standpoint. It was loud. My assumption is Blacksburg is going to be every bit as loud, or louder.”
The Mountaineers and Panthers played in front of a record-setting crowd of 70,622 people at Acrisure Stadium, the most ever for a sporting event in Pittsburgh. This includes more than 2,000 fans that were a part of the standing room only population, with the stadium capacity sitting at 68,400.
Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium isn’t quite as high, with a capacity of 66,233 fans, but with the contest being on prime time television, the attendance numbers may get close.
“Our guys have had to perform in loud games,” Brown said. “With it coming up, we’re going to be preparing for it over the next couple days. It’s a fan atmosphere, especially being on a Thursday.”
The game will mark the homecoming for Mountaineers offensive lineman Doug Nester, who played at Virginia Tech for two seasons before transferring to West Virginia prior to the 2021 season.
Nester started all 13 games at right guard for the Mountaineers last year, including the win over the Hokies, and has totaled 30 starts in 32 career games played.
Brown said he won’t need to talk to Nester about the emotions of competing in front of his former home crowd, but will likely ask him to address the Mountaineers before the game, discussing what it will be like to play in Lane Stadium.
“It won’t be needed as much,” Brown said of Nester. “Last year, we did (talk to him) because it was a different setup. Those were the coaches that recruited him. None of those guys (now) were there when he was there. He’s a mature man, he really is.”