BLACKSBURG, VA., -- It is not the biggest game of the year for either school, but Saturday's football game between Virginia Tech and West Virginia still has special significance.

The interstate rivalry goes back to 1912, but last year's 12-10 upset victory by Virginia Tech over the Mountaineers, then ranked No. 9, is what the players are talking about. More specifically, they are talking about what happened after the game.

The Hokies' postgame celebrations in front of 62,563 West Virginia homecoming fans reportedly was so disturbing to Mountaineers Coach Don Nehlen that it prompted Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer to write him a letter of apology.

"A lot has been made about our celebration last year," said Beamer. "But it wasn't in any shape or form disrespect towards them as a team. . . . We were a happy bunch of kids last year. And the reason we were happy was because they're a quality program. You don't get excited over beating the average teams, but you do for the good teams."

In Beamer's first two years at Virginia Tech, the team struggled, partly because it still was on NCAA probation. Wins were rare; only two in 1987 and three in 1988.

Last season, the team began showing promise. In the Hokies' first four games prior to West Virginia, the team was 2-1-1. The players were experiencing success, and the senior-led defense, which had several players left from the school's 1986 Peach Bowl victory, was particularly intent on getting back into postseason competition.

That Saturday in Morgantown, the defense was outstanding. Against a team -- led by all-American quarterback Major Harris -- averaging 470 yards per game, Virginia Tech allowed only 185. Despite season ending knee-injuries to starting quarterback Will Furrer and tailback Jon Jeffries, Virginia Tech's offense also played well. Although they managed only four field goals by freshman Mickey Thomas, it was all the scoring the Hokies needed.

The win marked the first time since 1964 that a Virginia Tech squad had defeated a top 10 team. It also was the first time since 1967 (Beamer was still a player then) that the Hokies had defeated the Mountaineers at home. It was not surprising the Virginia Tech players were giddy when it was over.

"We were a program that finished 3-8 the year before," said tailback Tony Kennedy. "Then to beat the No. 9-ranked team. What are you supposed to do? Just walk into the locker room?

"I notice the West Virginia-Virginia Tech game -- no matter how good either team is -- is a close game. To me it's a good rivalry and rivalries are always close."

Officially, both coaches are trying to put last year behind them. West Virginia is coming off a 38-24 win over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech is recovering from a close loss to second-ranked Florida State. Despite the defeat by the Seminoles, Beamer is optimistic about this team.

"Since we've been here, this is the closest, personnel-wise, we've ever been to a top 20 team," Beamer said. "We're playing our best football. . . . But it's not going to be easy since {the Mountaineers} probably found themselves last weekend against Pittsburgh."