It was bound to happen. If West Virginia and Marshall played enough times, sooner or later the Thundering Herd would achieve its first win in the series. Midway through the fourth quarter at Huntington Friday night, Mountaineer fans were starting to accept that this was the day.
But football is a 60-minute game, and Marshall gave WVU life with a fumble inside the 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and the Mountaineers took advantage with a dramatic comeback and a 24-21 overtime win.
West Virginia was able to salvage a victory in this game because it has a winner at quarterback in Geno Smith. Any doubts about his ability to lead his team were erased, as he drove the Mountaineers 96 and 98 yards in the final eight minutes and then converted a two-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Smith completed 32 of 45 passes for 316 yards.
The Mountaineer receiving corps was a question mark going into the season but performed exceptionally well. Although Jock Sanders dropped a couple of throws, the group otherwise snared everything thrown its way, including a difficult catch in the back of the end zone by Will Johnson for the tying touchdown.
The offensive line, however, had difficulty with Marshall's front seven most of the night until the Herd pass rushers tired and lost their legs late in the game. This group will need to become more consistent as the season moves along.
Coach Bill Stewart, who doesn't have any margin for error with many Mountaineer fans, dodged a bullet with the win after a questionable decision to forego a fourth down and less than a yard at the Marshall 28 yard line with West Virginia down by 8 in the third quarter. The ensuing 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked. The Mountaineers had been stopped on fourth down in short yardage in the first half, and Stewart apparently had lost confidence in the ability of his offense to convert. It may not be successful every time, but stay with it, coach.
It was a crushing loss for Marshall faithful, but at least they can take some solace in the fact that a good number of WVU fans gave up on the game and had departed the stadium, thus failing to witness the exciting finish. The Herd will someday get its win, but for now it will have to wait until another day.
My football weekend was topped off with a rare visit to Ohio Stadium for an entertaining game between Ohio State and Miami. Had to wear neutral colors though. Don't have any scarlet or gray in the closet.
This Saturday: Maryland and West Virginia played every year from 1980 through 2007, and after a two-year hiatus it is good to see the Terps return to Morgantown this Saturday.
Maryland is 2-0, but much like the Mountaineers had some good fortune in their season opening upset over Navy. Coach Ralph Friedgen is on the hot seat after a 2-10 season in 2009, but his team looks much improved. This will be a very competitive battle, but give the edge to the Mountaineers to achieve their fifth straight win in this series. West Virginia 23, Maryland 17.