In this year of the 40th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed 75 people connected to the Marshall football team, the Thundering Herd faced in-state rival West Virginia for just the 10th time in school history. Marshall Coach Doc Holliday, formerly on staff at West Virginia, objected to being called West Virginia’s rival because "The Herd" has never beaten the Mountaineers.
However, tonight appeared to be the chance Marshall had been waiting for as the Herd led 21-6 midway through the fourth quarter and was threatening inside the 10-yard line of West Virginia.
That’s when the feel-good story began to fade away.
Freshman RB Tron Martinez fumbled the ball on the 4-yard line, and West Virginia recovered. The Mountaineers began a march down the field, which culminated in a touchdown scamper by RB Noel Devine. With that score and the PAT that followed, West Virginia closed the gap to eight points with just over five minutes left in the game.
Marshall, still feeling good about its lead, moved the ball into Mountaineer territory thanks to some excellent running by RB Martin Ward who finished with 101 yards on the night. Unfortunately, the drive stalled, and Marshall elected to punt the ball. Disciplined punt coverage pinned West Virginia within the 5-yard line.
But it would prove no matter to Geno Smith.
Smith is the QB for West Virginia, a sophomore and first-year starter for the Mountaineers, but his lack of experience was not evident as he showed only calm and comfort on the field. He led his team down the field with only two minutes to play, even recognizing when there was space for him to pull the ball down and run, picking up valuable yardage in the process.
Getting a little help from a pass interference call, Smith found Will Johnson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and maintained his composure to convert the 2-point conversion to tie the game with only 12 seconds remaining.
West Virginia began overtime with the ball, but nearly gave it away on the first play. Smith ran a bootleg to the right but lost the ball as he attempted to hit Devine in the flat. He fell on the ball just in the nick of time before a Marshall defender could reach it.
The Mountaineers kicked a field goal to take a three point lead before Marshall had its chance.
Marshall lined up for a tying field goal without converting a first down. Even as kicker Tyler Warner stepped on the field, the commentators raised doubts of his ability to have the accuracy. His career long was only 37 yards, and he needed 40 to keep their hopes alive.
The kick would stay just right. Warner held his hands in the air in disbelief.
Marshall will have to wait until next season to become “rivals” with West Virginia when the teams are set to play each other in the season opener. For now, West Virginia’s dreams of a Big East Championship remain intact while Marshall will continue to play in remembrance of the men that went before them whose lives were ended too soon.