Stewart urges team to scrap in Big East race

Mountaineers try to lift themselves off the deck after stunning knockdown by Syracuse

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia senior nose tackle Chris Neild sat in a chair in the underbelly of Mountaineer Field Saturday evening in the aftermath of his team's stunning 19-14 loess to visiting Syracuse.

A laceration spanned the bridge of Neild's nose, something he would wear home as an unpleasant souvenir of what had just happened against the Orange.

"They deserved that win right there," Neild said of Syracuse.

Few would argue with him.

Few also would argue that the season for this West Virginia football team now takes on a different form.

At 5-2, 1-1 in the Big East Conference, the Mountaineers are clumped in a four-way tie for third place, looking up at Pitt, which is 2-0 in the league, and the Orange, 2-1 in conference play.

Before West Virginia kicked off its homecoming game against Syracuse, many in the Mountaineers' fan base had deemed that anything less than running the table for the remainder of the season would be considered a disappointment.

So where does this West Virginia team -- thought by many fans to be the class of the conference before the Syracuse loss -- go from here? In his postgame address, coach Bill Stewart was asked that question.

"They will come back, they are Mountaineers," Stewart said. "We try to tell them, and it isn't fun, but young people have to have heartache in life to get their attention sometimes."

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This Syracuse game was a cold splash in the face to West Virginia, which hadn't lost at home since Nov. 8, 2008, in overtime to Cincinnati.

Even as the loss to Syracuse stung profoundly, and one could hear the Orange players celebrating their victory nearby, Stewart stayed focused not on what had just happened, but what is in front of this team.

"I told them that is a bump in the road," Stewart said. "There are only two ways to go, you either get better or you get worse. You don't stay the same. So, we either get better, go up to [Connecticut on Friday] and try to win that one, or we get worse.

"I think they will fight back, I think they will because they are Mountaineers."

In reality, being in a conference that normally is clogged at the top could have a lot more to do with it.

Since 2003, West Virginia has won or tied for the Big East Conference championship five times. The Mountaineers have done it with an unblemished mark in the conference just once; in 2005, they went through the league 7-0.

It was that statistic that Stewart clung to tightest after the Syracuse loss. He spoke of how the loss to the Orange, however damaging, does not eliminate his team from the Big East race.

"I am not going to go jump off the Westover Bridge, I'll tell you that," Stewart said. "You know how many times we've won the Big East here at 5-2? Look it up. We've won the Big East here one time since I have been here, in 11 years, at 7-0. Look that up, it is in the record books.

"There is a lot of football left."

Colin Dunlap: or 412-263-1459.


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