The date is October 30, 1993. The location is the Carrier Dome - the home of Syracuse Orange football since it opened in 1980 and one of the most raucous environments around the country.
On this night, the West Virginia Mountaineers trek north to Syracuse on a night where that indoor environment will be welcomed as within an hour of kickoff, temperatures outside will reach 0 °F.
Before the scene can be set for this game, the events of the 1992 game between West Virginia and Syracuse in Morgantown must be understood. With West Virginia leading 17-13 and just over three-and-a-half minutes left to play and Syracuse in possession of the ball, quarterback Marvin Graves scrambled toward the sideline and was hit by Tommy Orr as he went out of bounds. In response to what he deemed a late hit, Graves launched the ball at Orr, hitting him in the helmet. Immediately after, Syracuse assistant coach Kevin Rogers grabbed Orr by the jersey and both benches cleared.
David Mayfield and Mike Collins took the brunt of the attacks from the Orange sideline with the former being clubbed over the head with an injured Syracuse players’ cast and Collins being thrown to the ground in the middle of a mob of the opposition. However, the most outrageous part of the entire incident was the ejection decisions by the officials. Three Mountaineers were disqualified from the game: Collins, a starting defensive back, Tom Briggs, a starting defensive lineman with two sacks already in the game, and nickel back Leroy Axem. For Syracuse, only one player was ejected, a reserve lineman named Ken Warren. Marvin Graves, the brawl’s instigator, was allowed to remain in the game. Less than two minutes later, Graves threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Gedney for the winning score. After the results of the fight, and West Virginia coach Don Nehlen’s comments following the game, the bad blood between these two storied programs was at an all-time high.
After the slight it received in 1992, the West Virginia football team entered the Carrier Dome a year later looking towards revenge and redemption. However fired up the Mountaineers may have been, the play-calling did not reflect it. Taking the ball with 12:03 left in the opening quarter, quarterback Jake Kelchner was able to engineer a long, grinding drive down the field. On the 15th play of an 87-yard possession, the Notre Dame transfer took the ball in himself from seven yards out and got West Virginia on the board first.
From that point on, the first half was brought to a grinding halt. The Mountaineer defense was able to totally erase a Syracuse running attack that brought several talented ball carriers into the mix, including quarterback Marvin Graves. West Virginia was able to blow through the Syracuse front with four different players recording tackles for loss: Matt Taffoni, Darrick Wiley, Steve Perkins, and Barry Hawkins. The Syracuse defenders were able to hold up for the remainder of the first 30 minutes and headed into the half trailing by just seven points.
It did not take very long for the Mountaineers to score once the second half began. Kelchner got things moving on the opening drive and West Virginia was quickly on the Orange side of the field. With just eight plays, the offense moved all the way into the red zone and Nehlen sent kicker Tom Mazzone on for a chance to extend the lead to ten. The Brooke High School graduate booted the pigskin through the uprights, unaffected by wind in the indoor environment, and gave West Virginia a two-score lead.
These points opened up the floodgates for what would be a dominant second half for the Mountaineers. Less than five minutes after Mazzone’s kick, sophomore tailback Robert Walker pounded his way into the end zone. With the Mountaineer lead up to 17-0, the Orange needed to respond to avoid being blown out on its home field.
Needless to say, Syracuse did not respond.
Neither team put together much offensively as the third quarter came to a close with both defenses holding tight and Syracuse staying in the game despite not putting any points on the board.
The fourth quarter would be a totally different story.
West Virginia retained the ball after taking over with less than a minute in the previous frame. It did not take very long for the game to break open after just 1:31 into the possession, Kelchner hit Rahsaan Vanterpool for a 21-yard touchdown. Todd Sauerbrun was unable to make the extra point and the Mountaineers led 23-0. This was the beginning of the end for the Orange.
The defense came up with another stop and the back-breaker was in sight for West Virginia. A good punt from Patrick O’Neill pinned the Mountaineers at the ten-yard line and it looked like it would take a while for West Virginia to finish off the Orange. Robert Walker had other plans as on the very first play, he took a handoff and bounced it outside, racing 90 yards to the end zone, putting his team up 30-0 and taking the game out of reach for Syracuse.
West Virginia scored twice more in the last five minutes on rushing touchdowns by Darren Studstill and future Baylor co-offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon. Walker was the most impressive player on the night, finishing with 198 yards and two touchdowns while Kelchner managed the game efficiently with 191 passing yards and another score.
With an explosive 26-point fourth quarter, the Mountaineers buried a talented Syracuse team. Well on its way to an undefeated regular season, West Virginia had not only knocked off a conference opponent, but also avenged one of the most frustrating losses in school history.