When talking about the best players in Mountaineer history, there always seems to be a single performance to point to, a moment in time in which they began to solidify their greatness. And often times we don’t realize that moment until a player has already begun to pile up the records and the victories to prove it, tangible testaments to what the fans have known all along.
The story of the Geno Smith era has yet to be written, or perhaps we are just beginning to pen chapter one. But if Friday night’s fourth quarter comeback is any indication, then we may have witnessed the beginning of yet another great Mountaineer career.
Sometimes it’s a single play that we look back upon, as it was for Robert Walker when he streaked down the sideline for the game clinching touchdown against Miami, securing West Virginia’s undefeated 1993 season.
Other times it is the sheer desire to win, witnessed as Pat White who, battling multiple injuries and with his star tailback watching from the sideline, singlehandedly brought West Virginia back from a 35-17 third quarter deficit in the 2006 Gator Bowl, taking the ball by himself on 10 of the game’s final 12 plays.
And sometimes it is the unbelievable, as it was the night Steve Slaton scored six touchdowns against nationally ranked Louisville, as WVU captured victory in a triple overtime thriller in which they rallied from a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit; arguably the greatest game ever played at Mountaineer Field.
Unfortunately for Smith, Friday night’s overtime win was marred by the fact that the Mountaineers were nearly a two touchdown favorite on the road against a less than stellar Marshall program. And thus, a comeback should have been completely unnecessary.
Apparently, WVU did not get the message, as neither the defensive nor offensive line of the Mountaineers appeared to show up for the ball game.
Marshall’s Brain Anderson often had plenty of time to find receivers down field, often picking apart a solid WVU secondary. And on the other side of the ball, Smith and running back Noel Divine spent much of the evening trying to elude the Marshall defenders who repeatedly seemed to be camped out in the Mountaineer backfield. All in all it was a dreadful Coal Bowl performance by the Mountaineers squad.
But with West Virginia’s season seemingly crumbling in the shadows of a rowdy Friday night at Marshall, out of the rubble emerged the poised sophomore quarterback. In just his second career start, Smith completed 32 of 45 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown.
Most importantly, he took the game over mid-way through the fourth quarter, leading the Mountaineers on two touchdown drives of more than 90 yards, the last culminating in a 5 yard toss to Will Johnson with twelve seconds remaining. And then with the Mountaineers down two, Smith calmly drilled Jock Sanders in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion, completing the comeback and sending the game into overtime.
From the fourth quarter through overtime, Smith went 17 of 22 for 168 yards, including the touchdown to Johnson and the two-point conversion pass.
It’s impossible to know if this is the beginning of something big. Only time will tell. But one thing is to be sure: Should Geno Smith continue to show the same poise and confidence, continue to lead the Mountaineers to victories, piling up the stats that land him alongside the other greats in the WVU record books, Friday night in Huntington will be the game that Mountaineer fans point to as the night they knew Geno Smith was special; the beginning of his era.
And given his performance in that comeback win, Mountaineer fans will be eagerly waiting in anticipation for his big opportunity, his shot at greatness.