Chiming in on a striking night
MORGANTOWN - It was a dark and stormy night.
The problem was, the football game between Marshall and West Virginia was supposed to end before dark. It started at 3:30 p.m.
Yet because of rain and lightning, the game kept going. And going. And going.
Finally, wisely, it was called at 10:24 p.m., which it should have been. The NCAA claims the well being of the student-athletes is its top priority. Well, the teams had warmed up four times. Hitting the field again would have called for a fifth. Then there's the play. The stop-and-start play. On a wet field. Add it together and it was a perfect scenario for injuries.
WVU 34, Marshall 13, after four hours and 22 minutes of delays. Six hours and 48 minutes after the start.
Whew. I mean, all was well at the beginning. The West Virginia football fans counted down the beginning of new coach Dana Holgorsen's tenure.
Five, four, three . . . until the start of what was billed the New Era.
The cheers went up. The Mountaineers ran onto the field - minus (thankfully) the inflatable helmet.
It was 85 degrees and balmy. WVU fans were pointing. Andrew Buie was starting at tailback. Will Clarke was at defensive end. Marshall fans were pointing as well in this Frontyard Brawl. Tron Martinez, not Travon Van, was starting in their backfield. Both sides were pointing at the MU coach. Weird, but there was former WVU player and coach Doc Holliday straddling the 50-yard line, watching the coin flip - from the opponents' sideline.
It was a wonderful, curious day for all involved.
Then lightning struck. And kept on striking. Turning the game into something more.
On the field, Marshall's Andre Booker took a 55-yard punt and went to the house for an 87-yard touchdown. Then WVU quarterback Geno Smith struck, kicking it in gear on runs and throwing into the end zone to his bud, Stedman Bailey, for a score.
With the game ticking down to six minutes remaining in the third quarter, however, it seemed MU and Holliday had made most of the rumbling. They were marching. The uber underdogs looked as if they would close the Mountaineer advantage to 20-17. They would ultimately close to within 20-13.
It was evident, however, the 80-0 rout hoped for and talked about by Mountaineer fans was not going to happen.
But lightning struck again. Literally. Figuratively.
At 5:47 p.m., in a fashion resembling that of Saturday's South Florida-Notre Dame game, lightning appeared in the area and forced a game delay. At one point, the rain pelted Mountaineer Field, with fans and players streaming out of the stadium. One couldn't see the field for the rain from the press box vantage point. A harsh lightning bolt thundered, making those outside duck simultaneously.
Before that, though, almost as if on cue, West Virginia's Tavon Austin took a kickoff in his team's end zone and bolted 100 yards for a score. He displayed his dazzling speed, sealing an appearance on Sports Center. It was a breath of fresh air for a Mountaineer team that hadn't had one since, well, Austin last recorded one against Connecticut in 2008. Sluggish? WVU's kickoff return teams have been snailish.
Like the game. There was a restart. Then another delay at 9:05 p.m.
Well, it seemed both head coaches, or coaching staffs, tried a little too hard to please their fan bases before a sellout of 60,758.
Holgorsen, in his debut as a head coach, tried at times to be too fancy. And when he did, the results weren't good. A flea-flicker? Nope. A little Austin gadget in the backfield? Dropped for a loss of 7 yards.
The Mountaineer offense, wasn't spectacular, especially the running game, but 34 points were posted. A total of 217 yards was rolled up in the first half.
MU's Holliday, meanwhile, tried an onside kick to start the second half. Uh, really?
Both sides, though, came out of the game OK.
As with last season's overtime game, the Thundering Herd showed grit and proved, until the end of the third quarter anyway, it belonged on the same field with WVU - at least for another year, when the series is set to die.
West Virginia, a 22-point favorite, performed well. Keep in mind this was the first game for Holgorsen's offense. It was the opener for a rebuilt defense. And, hey, kicker Tyler Bitancurt was on target.
Was the performance Top 25-worthy? Yes. However, at the bottom of the rankings, especially after Week One, there are all kinds of changes. Voters will look for room to insert Baylor, which dumped No. 14 TCU. Many will look to move in South Florida, which dropped No. 16 Notre Dame. But WVU should be good.
Whatever the case, Holgorsen and WVU fans should be satisfied. The Mountaineers are now 11-0 in the MU series. They are 1-0 this season and ranked.
Marshall left some questions to be answered. No shots in the end zone early when sniffing the end zone. But, again, the team didn't look like a huge underdog. It showed fight. Holliday has the team headed in the right direction.
This one, though, will most be remembered for the weather.
It was striking. On one dark and stormy night.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.