Stewart values late-year lessons


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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart stood against a wall.

A dark, dull, cinderblock wall -- and that is the part that, really, makes this story.

On the night before Halloween in Tampa, Fla., after his team had played, quite possibly, its worst three quarters of the season in a 30-19 loss to South Florida, Stewart stood in the underbelly of Raymond James Stadium and addressed the media contingent clamoring around him, his back flat against that dim wall.

His team had just dropped its first Big East Conference game, allowed South Florida's offense to gain 421 yards and ended October with a 6-2 record.


Tomorrow
  • Game: No. 24 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 Big East) at Rutgers (8-3, 3-3), noon.
  • TV: ESPN.
  • Pitching:
  • Line: Rutgers by 11/2

Before any questions were asked, Stewart said, "I just told the men in that locker room that they remember what you do in November."

Now, with the calendar advancing to December, Stewart and the Mountaineers can look back at November.

No. 24 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) travels to Rutgers (8-3, 3-3) for the regular-season finale at noon tomorrow, fresh off a November in which the Mountaineers, stunned after that South Florida loss, pulled it back together and went 2-1, winning home games against Louisville and archrival Pitt on a last-season field goal.

Sandwiched between those victories was a performance that Stewart seems just as proud of. On Nov. 13, West Virginia traveled to then-No. 5 Cincinnati and lost, 24-21, to a Bearcats team that is still undefeated.

"These guys could have laid down, America thought they were going to lie down, all the naysayers predicted we were going to lie down," Stewart said, his voice rising sharply at his Tuesday news conference.

"But, now people just want to tell them how wonderful they are. Our backs were to a wall and these guys made a vow to each other after the South Florida game, and we got better as a family."

Chris Neild, West Virginia's stalwart junior nose tackle, understands the effect that South Florida loss could have had on the remainder of the season. In the days afterward, he spoke of how this team had two directions in which to travel -- and luckily for these Mountaineers, everyone wanted to move onward.

"It forced us to regroup," Neild said. "After that game, we had to find the guys on this team who we really dedicated to make this thing moving forward again. Luckily, I think we found that everybody was about that. You don't always get that after a loss.

"Sometimes, some guys don't want to fight hard to bounce back," he said. "But from there on, it has been different."

Sophomore tight end Tyler Urban walked off that field in Tampa deflated but with the understanding there were choices to be made about the future of the 2009 season.

"That put everything in perspective," Urban said. "We knew we had to start winning and we had to get it together or we were going to be in some big trouble, so we just promised each other that we were going to give a little bit more to the program."

Kind of like the predicament French Gen. Ferdinand Foch found himself in during World War I, as he commanded the Ninth Army against the attacking Germans. Holding their ground, Foch's men refused to allow the Germans to gain any more ground.

Huh?

Yep, that's the guy Stewart chose to quote recently when looking back at all he went through in November.

"I will tell you what I remember about November," Stewart said, getting into those Foch words. "Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.

"That is what I remember about November."


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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