MORGANTOWN — Of all the high school football games Blain Stewart was a part of, none have stuck with him more than the MoHawk Bowl.
“Even before playing, I remember going to the games when it was at Mountaineer Field,” said Stewart, who now works at Mountaineer Field as an assistant coach with WVU. “In terms of my own career, I remember it being the biggest week every year. It was an unbelievable local rivalry.”
The annual high school football matchup between crosstown rivals Morgantown and Univeristy is a local staple. Some years it feels as though the entire city tries to cram into either MHS’s Pony Lewis Field or UHS’s Mylan Pharmaseuticals Stadium.
“I just remember it was a great week, the games always mattered for seeding, always mattered for town pride and it was always a big week,” Stewart, a Morgantown graduate, said. “When I think of my high school career, University games are at the top of that list.”
Stewart thinks it’s the familiarity between the schools and their supporters that makes the rivalry games so special. Separated by only a handful of miles, Stewart said he was always good friends with a number of the Hawk players.
“Knowing players on both sides of the field was great,” he said. “I grew up in Cheat Lake so I played for the Cheat Lake Chargers, played for Cheat Lake Middle School football and then ended up going to Morgantown High. I had a relationship with numerous guys on the University side.”
Morgantown went 4-0 against University during Stewart’s time in the rivalry, a fact he won’t soon forget, or stop reminding others about.
“I take great pride in that to this day,” he said. “One of my best friends, Jack Armstrong, played at University. I remind him every year that I never lost to UHS.”
Stewart not only remembers that the Mohigans won, but he also remembers key details from all four games.
“Freshman year I didn’t play, but I was dressed and we won 7-6 at University,” he recalled. “Anthony Vecchio had the winning touchdown catch and we ended up winning by one.
“Sophomore year I was playing a little bit, primarily special teams but I got in a little bit on offense. We had a great team that year and beat University at Pony Lewis Field. Junior year, I remember it was Halloween weekend and we got after University pretty good. They were a great team that year, but they were young.”
It was during that game in his junior season that Stewart started to appreciate the community aspect of the rivalry.
“My baseball coach, Sean Watson, his wife was sick and has since passed away,” Stewart said. “The entire community came together that week. We wore orange wristbands and I spattered my cleats orange in honor of cancer awareness. Both sides did that and I just think that was a classy thing University did for us.”
Stewart’s high school career closed with one final victory over the Hawks.
“My senior year, which was one of my favorite games ever, we won at Pony Lewis Field in a pretty tough game against a really good UHS team,” he said.
Despite Stewart going 4-0 as a player, it’s not as though one side has dominated the rivalry. In fact, as soon as Stewart graduated, the Hawks were able to take some revenge.
“Jack, in his senior year after I left, beat Morgantown twice,” Stewart said. “He beat them in the MoHawk Bowl and in the playoffs. That team, that I said started out as a young team, they were seniors and they were rolling.
“It’s great when that game’s competitive, which it has been,” Stewart continued. “And to this day, I take great pride in it.”
While Stewart’s introduction to the MoHawk Browl came during the game’s tenure at Mountaineer Field, he loved playing at the high schools. Although, as the son of WVU’s head coach at the time, Stewart admits the stadium did not have the same allure for him.
“I loved playing games at the respective high schools,” Stewart said. “I was obviously spoiled, I spent so much time at (Milan Puskar) Stadium and in this building that I was probably numb to how big of a deal it is.”
As for whether he thinks the game should ever return to Mountaineer Field, Stewart said he feels divided.
“I think there’s pros and cons to both,” he said. “I think playing at the high schools is great, but for a lot of players, it would be an unbelievable opportunity to play at Mountaineer Field when that might be their only chance to ever do so.
“Whatever happens to it, it’s going to be a big game regardless of where you play.”