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‘Always a big one’: Maryland football season opener vs. West Virginia marks the return of a bitter regional rivalry

When Maryland football faced West Virginia in 2002, it didn’t take long for former Terps wide receiver Steve Suter to form a hatred for the Mountaineers.

As Suter was warming up before the game, he noticed West Virginia fans barking rude remarks at former Mountaineers quarterback Scott McBrien, who was playing in Morgantown for the first time since he transferred to Maryland. McBrien ignored the fans, but Suter used those comments as motivation.

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“If I was on West Virginia, I probably would be boys with those guys just like I was boys with the guys on [Maryland],” said Suter, who played with the Terps from 2001-04 and was second-team All-American in 2002. “If I didn’t particularly like a fan base, that was my driving force of trying to ruin their day. And that started at West Virginia.”

After the teams’ first meeting in 1919, Maryland and West Virginia became nonconference rivals for decades given their regional ties, with the schools separated by a roughly four-hour drive. The Terps and Mountaineers might not share the same bad blood when the teams meet for the first time in six years in Saturday’s season opener, but old and new players alike are looking forward to adding new memories.

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“When I grew up being a Terp fan, this was a game that was always a big one on the calendar,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “Coaching under Ralph Friedgen, this was one of those games where the hair would be up on the back of his neck, because he really didn’t like those guys.”

West Virginia has had the upper hand over the Terps since the start of the rivalry, which included an annual meeting from 1980 to 2007. The Mountaineers hold a 28-22-2 lead in the all-time series, winning nine of the past 10 matchups. West Virginia dominated the last meeting, 45-6, in 2015, while Maryland’s last victory came in 2013.

“They’ve had their way with us, obviously, nine of the last 10 games,” Locksley said. “We got an opportunity here this Saturday at the shell to go out and create an identity for ourselves on what kind of team we want to be this year.”

McBrien saw both sides of the rivalry. The quarterback wanted to go to Maryland coming out of DeMatha in Hyattsville, but West Virginia was the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. McBrien thought he had a future in Morgantown until Rich Rodriguez replaced coach Don Nehlen and brought a different vision for the quarterback position.

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McBrien called his return to Morgantown with the Terps one of the best times of his life. He remembers being showered with boos as he led the the team out of the tunnel. Maryland went on to win easily, 48-17.

“It was a wild scene,” said McBrien, who played for Maryland from 2001-03. “Coming out of the tunnel to 70,000 screaming boos and my guys behind me saying, ‘We got your back,’ was pretty cool.”

McBrien helped the Terps beat West Virginia three times in a row, including a victory in the 2004 Gator Bowl, and he thrived against the Mountaineers, recording a combined 763 passing yards and five touchdowns.

McBrien and Suter remember the Gator Bowl well. A day before the game, McBrien, Suter and other teammates went to a local sports bar near the Jaguars’ stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, for dinner. McBrien and his teammates were having a calm meal until a sea of West Virginia fans flooded the restaurant. As soon as fans noticed McBrien sitting in a booth, they began to chant “Rasheed Marshall,” who was West Virginia’s quarterback at the time.

Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien against West Virginia in the 2004 Gator Bowl.
Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien against West Virginia in the 2004 Gator Bowl. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

“Clearly, they are trying to get my guy riled up, and I [wasn’t] going to let that happen,” Suter said. “I stood up in the middle of the booth and yelled loudly some choice words to everyone about how I felt about what they were doing, and everybody got kind of quiet.”

McBrien and Suter made the Mountaineers fans regret the trash talking a day later, as the Terps pounded West Virginia, 41-7. McBrien threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns while Suter had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“There’s something to be said about a dog fight and kicking the last-second field goal,” Suter said. “But if you tell me I’m going to stomp West Virginia by 40, or kick the last-second field goal, I’m probably choosing to stomp them by 40.”

McBrien believes Saturday will give Maryland players a sense of the rivalry. McBrien is already expecting a huge turnout of West Virginia fans at Capital One Field.

“I hate to say it, but probably about 40% of the fans on Saturday are going to be wearing blue and gold because they travel so well,” McBrien said. “It’s a game that means a lot to both programs and fan bases and I’m glad to see it back.”

It’s just a one-time event, at least for now. Maryland is scheduled to face Virginia (2023-24) and Virginia Tech (2026-29) in nonconference play over the next decade, but not the Mountaineers.

Leading up to Saturday’s matchup, Maryland players were reminded of the importance of the historic rivalry. Senior defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers said old Maryland-West Virginia games were shown on television screens throughout the team’s training facility at Jones-Hill House. Alumni have returned to campus to remind the players about how big the rivalry is. McBrien even texted Locksley this week, writing, “Hey man, it’s West Virginia week, let’s go get them.”

“I see it as motivation, but then I also see it as just understanding the culture and the tradition behind the games,” Rogers said.

Suter compares his hatred to West Virginia with Terps fans hating the Duke men’s basketball team. When he’s in the booth, serving as an analyst on the Terps radio broadcast, he said it could be hard to contain his emotions.

“It’ll be my first game doing the broadcast, and then you put West Virginia on the schedule,” Suter said. “That’ll get my blood flowing. [Play-by-play announcer] Johnny Holliday, probably going to have to calm me down.”

Season opener

WEST VIRGINIA@MARYLAND

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN Radio: 105.7 FM

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