HUNTINGTON — On Dec. 21, 1996, Marshall sought to leave Division I-AA with a title before moving to Division I-A.
As it turned out, there was a guy in ‘Cat in the Hat’ socks named Randy Moss who helped the Thundering Herd make a successful leap.
Quarterback Eric Kresser threw half of his 18 completions to Moss, who caught nine passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns — a I-AA Championship Game record — in a 49-29 win over Montana.
The one thing that stood out in looking back at that game is the variety of ways Moss scored his touchdowns.
They were all big plays, made in big ways — which was indicative of Marshall’s 1996 team as a whole.
Moss’ first score of the game came just six minutes in when he caught a signature fade from Kresser while toeing the sidelines for a 19-yard score that set the tone for the game.
From there, Montana had no answers as Marshall head coach Bobby Pruett kept his foot on the gas pedal.
Pruett was known for looking for the big play early in quarters, and it happened in each of the final three quarters of that I-AA Championship on hook-ups between Kresser and Moss.
Keeping with theme of variety in Moss’ route-running and touchdown-scoring, he added a 70-yard scoring reception less than a minute into the second quarter, hopping into the end zone for a 20-0 Marshall lead.
While the first touchdown was in man-to-man coverage, the second came with a corner up and a safety over the top. However, Moss out-ran the safety, who had no chance at an angle on Kresser’s deep ball that only Moss could get to.
It was the route that made Moss famous throughout his Marshall and NFL career.
After building a big lead to take into halftime, Marshall wasted no time finishing off the Grizzlies in the opening minute of the third quarter as Moss scored on a 54-yard touchdown to push the lead to 30-6 and start the celebration in Huntington.
On this touchdown, Moss showcased his speed and elusiveness, catching a slant over the middle before weaving in and out of the Montana defense and breaking a tackle at the 10-yard line to stay in bounds for his third score.
Moss’ final touchdown reception from Kresser was a 28-yard fade in which Moss beat jam coverage at the line of scrimmage and Kresser laid in the timing fade just before the safety could again give assistance.
The end result was Moss’ fourth score and a 46-6 lead with nearly a full quarter to go.
Moss and the Herd set out to show the world that Marshall was ready to make the jump to Division I-A (now FBS) football and they did so by leading the defending national champion Montana by 40 points in the fourth quarter.
For the Herd, it was time to take flight for new heights within college football, and Moss was the guy in “Cat in the Hat” socks making sure Marshall’s journey started on the right foot.