By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Black Diamond Trophy has been in No. 15 Virginia Tech’s possession since the current players were preschoolers.
It’s time to dust off the prize that has symbolized the rivalry between the Hokies (2-0) and West Virginia (1-1), which began in 1912 but has been played sparingly of late. What’s just as important is the momentum that would come from a win Saturday.
West Virginia is looking for any kind of an edge entering Big 12 play in a league it hasn’t yet captured since joining in 2012.
The Hokies have their highest ranking since rising to No. 12 in 2018 and are hoping to return to the top 10 for the first time since an 11-win season in 2011.
“If we go out here and we get this win, it will show that we’re a real football team, that we’re a team that should be reckoned with,” said Virginia Tech center Brock Hoffman.
It’s the first road game of the season for Virginia Tech and it happens to be West Virginia’s first sellout in two years. Last year’s crowds were dramatically reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know the environment will be electric and emotions will run high,” said Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente. “We’re excited for the opportunity, the challenge, to take this team on the road in a hostile environment and see how we can perform.”
This series was played every year from 1973 to 2005. It stepped up in intensity after Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer took over in 1987 — he went 12-7 against the Mountaineers.
The Hokies left the Big East after the 2003 season to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. That’s the last time West Virginia beat them, when the four-loss Mountaineers shocked No. 3-ranked Virginia Tech 28-7 in Morgantown.
This is the first meeting between the schools since 2017 and in Morgantown since 2005. West Virginia defensive analyst Jeff Casteel was an assistant for the Mountaineers from 2001 to 2011 before returning a year ago. He’s been coach Neal Brown’s point man on showing the players what the series is about.
MORE ON THE TROPHY
Culling the internet might be the only way that some players and fans will learn about the Black Diamond Trophy, which was introduced in 1997 and is a nod to the region’s rich history with coal.
Just as the trophy has been on a shelf, the coal industry has experienced a huge downturn with the closing of mines and the loss of thousands of jobs.
“By my calculation, Virginia Tech’s had possession of the Black Diamond Trophy for over 6,000 days now,” Brown said. “That’s a long time.”
Both teams were solid on defense last week against outmatched opponents. In two games Virginia Tech has allowed just three touchdowns and has piled up nine sacks.
West Virginia needed a week to improve after allowing 496 yards in a loss at Maryland, limiting Championship Subdivision member Long Island to 95 yards.
Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell sustained a season-ending knee injury last week against Middle Tennessee. Picked to the all-ACC preseason first team, Mitchell was tied for the team lead with five catches for 42 yards and one TD.
West Virginia kick returner Winston Wright is looking for his third straight standout game. He returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score last week against FCS Long Island and had a school-record 217 yards in kick returns in the opening loss at Maryland.
“I’m very confident in our scheme, so every chance they kick it I know it’s either going to be a big return or a solid return,” Wright said.
He’s hoping teams somehow will still kick the ball to him, “but probably not,” Wright said. “I’m praying they do.”
HALL OF FAME
West Virginia will induct 11 people into its Sports Hall of Fame before the game, a ceremony postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among those being inducted are Da’Sean Butler, one of three 2,000-point scorers in school men’s basketball history behind Jerry West and “Hot Rod” Hundley.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Richmond, Virginia, and Associated Press writer Matt Thornsbury in Morgantown contributed to this report.
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By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer