HUNTINGTON — On Sept. 10, 2010, it appeared Marshall was on its way to the biggest win in program history.
Instead, the night turned into the biggest collapse and what-might-have-been moment in team lore as No. 23 West Virginia rallied for a 24-21 overtime win.
Everything seemed to be going right for Marshall’s football team against its in-state rival in head coach Doc Holliday’s first home game since taking over the Herd after leaving WVU.
All the storylines within the game were building to a poetic night that would have made Holliday’s home debut a landmark moment in Marshall lore.
Even 10 years later, it’s still crazy to think how quickly things went from Marshall having its foot on the throat of the Mountaineers to WVU seemingly doing no wrong down the stretch.
With 10:18 left, Herd defensive end Vinny Curry forced a Geno Smith fumble, which Donald Brown recovered, giving Marshall possession inside the West Virginia 20-yard line with the Herd nursing a 21-6 lead.
All Marshall had to do was hang on to the lead.
Instead, it’s hopes of an upset got fumbled away — literally.
With the Herd facing 1st and goal at the Mountaineers’ 6-yard line and only 8:28 left, true freshman Tron Martinez fumbled away the football, breathing life into a WVU team that was one breath away from its last in the contest.
In retrospect, football is a game of inches and this is one of those moments where everything gets second-guessed.
With a game in the balance, do you have a true freshman running the football in his first meaningful carries with the team? Maybe. Maybe not.
What’s interesting about that decision is that Martinez’ spin move on a third-and-short picked up the first down directly before his fumble.
The eerie aspect to that is, without the spin move, Marshall is a few inches short and Holliday undoubtedly kicks a field goal that puts Marshall up three scores with right at eight minutes left.
It is a case where getting that first down was the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Herd, given what happened on the next play — again, part of the poetry of the evening.
From there, the storylines flipped as Holliday watched WVU quarterback Geno Smith — a player Holliday recruited to West Virginia — be the catalyst in WVU’s comeback.
Smith struggled for much of the evening, but found magic in the final eight-plus minutes, engineering two 90-plus yard drives that culminated with Smith’s touchdown pass to Will Johnson with 12 seconds left that was followed by a two-point conversion to tie things up.
Smith’s magic was aided by a head-scratching defensive decision by then-defensive coordinator Chris Rippon to go to a pillow-soft prevent defense while rushing three, which gave Smith time to survey the field.
The move was even more curious considering Marshall’s ability to hold WVU to six points through three quarters, based off the play of a defensive line which was the only true advantage the Herd had against the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers.
Somewhere on a laptop that has long since deceased, there is still a copy of a story and a sidebar that I wrote on a tight deadline geared toward Marshall’s biggest win in school history.
That story was in an E-mail body just seconds — 12, to be exact — from being sent for print.
Instead, of the biggest win in school history, it quickly became the most gut-wrenching on-field loss in Marshall history.
Regardless of which side the 41,382 fans were cheering for on a record-setting night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, it was a game that no one in attendance will ever forget.