Sept. 21, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
BLACKSBURG, Va. – One of the longest games in Marshall football history took 3 hours and 57 minutes, but it will linger much longer.
In one of the more difficult major college football venues to play – Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium – and in a driving rain that was more persistent than either team’s offense, the Thundering Herd came up oh-so-achingly short.
“We came here for a victory, but we didn’t get one,” Marshall senior defensive tackle James Rouse said after the Hokies outlasted the Herd 29-20 in the second three-overtime game in Herd history. “It was raining hard as heck… and we’ve got to play better than that. We’ve just got to play better.”
Tech (3-1) finally won it as three Rakeem Cato passes fell incomplete after Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas had run 2 yards for a touchdown and then added a two-point conversion.
For much of the game Cato outplayed Thomas before a soaked – near-capacity -- crowd of 64,060. Marshall led the game for more than 43 minutes of regulation, and had a chance to win it in the first OT when Justin Haig’s 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
That kind of play was something of a theme of the afternoon … the Herd losing by a few fingertips:
*Tech’s Derek DiNardo’s 11-yard touchdown on Kyle Fuller’s block of a punt by Marshall’s Tyler Williams on the game’s first series;
*The Hokies getting a 2-yard scoring catch from Willie Byrn to tie the game at 21 with only 3:09 left in regulation … .but only after the ball tipped off a hand of Herd cornerback Darryl Roberts.
*Derrick Hopkins’ middle-of-the-scrum block of Haig’s first-OT field goal try …. The very definition
and reputation of “Beamer Ball.”
Marshall (2-2) did more than take the battle to the hosts in a stadium where Tech is 50-5 in non-conference games since coach Frank Beamer’s program began its run of 20 straight bowl seasons.
“I told our kids how well they played, but I think we all know we’re not here for moral victories at Marshall,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “We came here to win a football game but unfortunately Virginia Tech made one more play at the end, found a way to win it, and we didn’t.”
“They (the Hokies) came back and did what they have to do to win the game. We didn’t come down here expecting to play with them.”
The Herd’s run game was impressive for the most part against the nation’s No. 2-ranked defense, as Essray Taliaferro had his second career 100-yard game (105), as Holliday explained the senior was in the game for most snaps to offer additional protection for Cato.
Cato, who completed 19-of-41 for 228 yards and two scores to go with two interceptions, was successful with his feet, too. He ran for 79 yards, a number diminished by 46 in losses on four sacks.
“I think (his running) did surprise them,” Cato said.
“They were moving around (Tech’s defensive front) and I felt like we handled them pretty well, but we didn’t do enough,” said Herd redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse, who added that he wore cleats for the first time in his college career on the Lane grass field. “We knew what we wanted to do offensively and in the first half, we went out and did that.
“The second half, we moved the ball well but we didn’t finish. Our defense played a great game tonight, but we’ve got to be able to finish.”
Marshall last played a three-overtime game versus Western Carolina on Nov. 2, 1991, a game the Herd won 27-24 on homecoming.
The Herd was damaged by 11 penalties (66 yards), but the much improved Marshall defense showed its mettle again. The Hokies gained 382 yards, but went only 2-of-16 on third down conversions.
“At times we stopped the run for the most part,” Holliday said. “I don’t care about the stats, we lost the game. I did think we stopped the run for the most part, made two interceptions (corner Monterius Lovett, linebacker Neville Hewitt).
“We played hard. I thought we tackled well for the most part and had some pressure on that big quarterback (Thomas), forced him to make some bad throws … We ran the ball well at times, but we’ve got to be more consistent with it.
“The punt block at the beginning of the game, that’s just unacceptable.”
By the soggy OT, Marshall went with three Taliaferro runs – three straight 1-yard gains -- to set up what could have been Haig’s winning attempt.
“I thought – at that point – that it was sloppy out there,” the Herd coach said. “I felt that (Haig) had been consistent from the 25-yard line (the try was from the 22) and we felt that he could put us in position to win the game, and unfortunately we couldn’t get it done.”
Herd slot receiver Tommy Shuler caught 10 passes – six more than any other receiver in the game and moved into the top 20 in Herd history in receiving yards. Marshall got double figures in tackles from Alex Bazzie (11), D.J. Hunter (10) and Hewitt (10), but landing a sixth win over a BCS conference team since that series was created in 1998 was elusive.
The best news for the Herd is that not only is there an open date this coming Saturday, but Holliday’s team now plays only two games in a 32-day span – Oct. 5 for Homecoming and first-time meeting against UTSA and Oct. 12 at another conference USA newcomer, Florida Atlantic – before an Oct. 24 Thursday nighter at Middle Tennessee.
The Herd is expecting – and expected to, according to most prognosticators – to challenge for the league title.
“We’ve got an open date coming at the right time right now,” Holliday said. “We’ve got to get back and get these guys healthy and we’ll be fine. We haven’t even started conference play yet … We’ve got a break here before conference play, which is the most important part of our schedule.”