9. West Virginia – Georgia 2006
It was a sure as apple pie, or maybe more appropriately peach pie, that the Georgia Bulldogs would crush the Mountaineers. After all, the game had been moved from New Orleans to Atlanta due to the wrath Hurricane Katrina imposed on the Superdome.
Georgia was prohibitive favorites, with a top-notch defense and a backfield loaded with future pros.
West Virginia was largely unnoticed all season, dominating a watered-down Big East conference with a diminutive freshman quarterback, Pat White, and his backfield companion Steve Slaton. Also a freshman, Slaton had rushed for 924 yards during the season, taking over the starting role midway through the year.
This was the game where White and Slaton put themselves and their program on the map.
In front of a predominantly red and black-clad crowd, not even sixteen minutes of game time had elapsed, and the Mountaineers were leading 28-0. That’s right, the champion of a conference whose lack of talented teams left people wondering if they even deserved an automatic BCS bid was embarrassing the mighty Bulldogs from the SEC.
Slaton ripped off two touchdown runs in the first half, while receiver Darius Reynaud caught and ran for one touchdown apiece.
Mark Richt, head coach of the Bulldogs was not about to let his team lay down for the Mountaineers. Quarterback D.J. Shockley led a second quarter charge, capped by a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Leonard Pope in the final minute before halftime, to pull Georgia within ten points at 31-21.
After such a dominating start, West Virginia was losing confidence with every snap. Georgia was inching closer, and just as every underdog who holds a big lead, the pressure to hold that lead became monumental.
In the third quarter, West Virginia barely moved the football on offense, while Georgia finally broke through late in the period with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Shockley to A.J. Bryant.
Entering the fourth quarter, David had 15 minutes to hold off Goliath with a three-point lead.
Midway through the final quarter, Slaton busted loose again for his second 52-yard touchdown run of the game, giving the Mountaineers a ten-point cushion.
All Georgia did was take the ball 90 yards in seven plays on the ensuing possession to draw back to within a field goal.
The game clock showed five minutes, 13 seconds remaining, but it might as well have been 5 months, 13 days, for the West Virginia faithful.
West Virginia coach and offensive mastermind Rich Rodriguez had to keep his offense on the field long enough to run the clock out, or at least put another score on the board.
The Bulldog defense finally clogged the drive, and the Mountaineers were forced to punt with under two minutes to play.
Georgia was lined up with every intention to block the punt and set up a game-saving score.
That’s when West Virginia punter Phil Brady took the snap and scampered. On fourth down and six yards to go, Brady ran for ten yards on the fake punt to resuscitate the drive, and end Georgia’s hopes for a comeback.
It was one of the gutsiest play calls ever made. With the reputation of a school, a football program, and an entire conference on the line, Rodriguez risked everything with the fake punt at midfield, and the returns on his gamble were unthinkable.
West Virginia ran the clock away, winning the game 38-35. Slaton ran for 204 yards, and his three touchdowns were good enough to earn him game MVP honors.
For the next four seasons, White was a hero on the Mountaineer campus in Morgantown, becoming the only quarterback to ever start and win four bowl games in his career.
With the win, West Virginia marked themselves as the class of the Big East, and they have been the consummate team to beat in that league ever since.