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Wayback Wednesday: Hoss Debuts and Nehlen Goes National with Upset of Oklahoma



The date is September 11, 1982. The location is what was then known as Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in the now-familiar city of Norman, Oklahoma. Don Nehlen was set to kick-off his third season at the helm of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Nehlen was flying high after a respectable 6-6 in his inaugural season and was followed up with a 9-3 season, capped off with his first bowl win at the Peach Bowl over a Florida team led by head coach Charley Pell and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. Oliver Luck, a three year starter at quarterback, had graduated and Penn State transfer Jeff Hostetler would be making his first start in a hostile environment.

This is the greatest Week 1 game in WVU football history.

The 1982 opener was anticipated on both sides. WVU had just had its first winning season since 1975 and had knocked off a Florida team in a big name bowl game. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was coming off the worst season in Barry Switzer’s tenure in Norman but had the recruit of the decade on the roster in Marcus Dupree and Switzer was looking for his tenth opening game win in ten years. This game would have major implications for the future of both programs.

The Mountaineers won the toss and in an extremely conservative move, elected to kick into a 15 mile per hour(!) wind. Two plays later the Sooners led 7-0 and Jeff Hostetler was trotting onto the field for his first start in a Mountaineer uniform. WVU’s first drive wound up scoreless. The patented Switzer wishbone then took hold. Oklahoma ground their way down the field on a brutal 13 play, 61-yard drive capped off by quarterback Kelly Phelps toting the ball in from 6 yards out. The Mountaineers responded with a three and out. It looked like the rout may have been on. Fifty-four Sooner yards later, Michael Keeling missed a 34-yard field goal.

Then, the game flipped on its head.

The teams traded punts and the ball was back in the hands of the WVU offense. Hoss flashed his ridiculous arm strength for the first time in a Mountaineer uniform,  hitting Darrell Miller for a 31 yard strike to set up a Paul Woodside field goal. Daryl Talley helped the defense come up with a huge stop and a 52 yard shot to Rich Hollins put WVU in the red zone for the first time all day. Hostetler found tight end Mark Raugh in the end zone from ten yards out and just like that, it was a four point game.

Another three and out for the Sooners gave WVU the ball back with the clock dwindling in the first half. Willie Drewrey found himself open deep in Oklahoma territory and Hostetler hit him to set up another scoring chance. A scoring strike to Miller was called back so another Woodside kick cut the lead to 14-13. Nehlen decided to throw caution to the wind and called for an onside kick. The ball made it through the first line of the Sooner hands team before reserve linebacker Brad Minetree made the most important play of his career and dove on the ball. On the very next play, Miller snagged a back-shoulder toss on the far sideline and got his feet down in the back corner of the end zone. WVU took a 20-14 lead into the locker room.

At the break, the WVU locker room was incensed, ready to break the game open and bury their hosts on their own field. However, Oklahoma came out and scored on their opening possession for Phelps’ second TD of the day. The Mountaineers would not be denied though, as Drewrey brought the ensuing kickoff all the way out to the 47 yard line. Within a few plays, Hostetler fired one over the middle to running back Curlin Beck who took it in from thirty yards out to retake the lead at 27-21. Another stop for the WVU defense had them poised to take control before disaster struck. on 4th down, deep in Mountaineer territory, punter Greg Robertson mishandled the snap, allowing an Oklahoma player to break through and get a hand on the punt, knocking it back into the end zone where another Sooner fell on it for 6 points. However, the WVU special teamers got their revenge on the extra point try with Chuck Harris getting a piece of the kick and keeping the game knotted at 27.

The Mountaineers got the ball back with the kickoff and Hoss made a pair of short completions to Mickey Walczak to set up a 42 yard shot to Hollins down to the Oklahoma 9 yard line. Two snaps later, Hostetler tallied his 4th touchdown of the game with a strike to Wayne Brown to give WVU the lead.

Oklahoma’s offense was built to run the Wishbone and Phelps was not very prolific as a passer. After one first down through the air, the offense stalled with four straight incompletions, the last of which was broken up on 4th down by WVU safety Tim Agee. With the Mountaineers trying to run out the clock and escape Norman with an upset, Beck and fullback Cam Zopp became the focal points of the final drive. On second down, a draw to Beck was called and, after a key block from Zopp, he raced 43 yards into the end zone. The Mountaineer lead would hold up at 41-27 through the final horn.

The 1982 upset of Oklahoma is one of the most important games ever played by the WVU football team. Jeff Hostetler threw for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns, legitimizing himself as the successor to Oliver Luck under center for the Mountaineers. Don Nehlen led his team to their first win over a top ten team, on the road in a hostile environment. WVU finished 9-3 and went on to a Gator Bowl appearance. The rise of WVU football may have happened without this victory, but it certainly helped speed up the process in legitimizing the Mountaineers.

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