The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

September 1, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Punter is unexpected hero for WVU

MORGANTOWN — To be honest, the last thing anyone expected was that the hero of West Virginia University’s opening-day victory over William & Mary, as ugly as it may have been, would be Nick O’Toole, the punter.

If you’d said you would have said Paul Millard, the quarterback, no one would have blinked an eye, even though it was uncertain if he would start or how much he would play.

If you’d said Josh Lambert, the placekicker, you might believe it for every week someone somewhere kicks a game-winning field goal.

But a punter?

A guy who comes in a game on fouth-and-12 and kicks the ball to the other team, this one being a junior college transfer in his first game for WVU?

How could that happen?

This way.

The Mountaineers had played bad enough to lose and seemed to be in the process of doing it. They were down 17-7 at the half and it might have been worse had he not forgotten about a 32-yard punt on his first one to hit one for 57 yards before halftime to make life tough on the Tribe.

But now we go to the fourth quarter and the score is tied and WVU is in a punting situation at its 27-yard line, the game resting on field position.

O’Toole took the snap, stepped forward and sent one sailing 56 yards down field, senior Darwin Cook, a starting safety filling in on special teams, hustling down and making the tackle at the William & Mary 22.

“I felt like Rudy of Notre Dame, being there on special teams,” Cook smiled as he thought of that moment

Fast forward to later in the fourth quarter, WVU now punting from its 13, still tied.

“Yeah, we were backed up and I saw the returner and he was lined up at the 50, so I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get it over his head,’” O’Toole said. “The wind was behind me, and it was great snap from John (DePalma) and Cook got down there fast.”

This time he punted it 60 yards and, yes, Cook was down there again for the stop.

Two monster punts, two monster tackles from the man who goes by the nickname “The Cookie Monster.”

In the end, those punts did in William & Mary, WVU using the field position to set up the winning touchdown by freshman Wendell Smallwood.

It was big time from O’Toole, who turned that first 32-yard punt into a 50.6 average.

Certainly those punts had to be his favorite moment from his first big-time college game, right?

Wrong.

“My favorite moment was being with the guys before we went out onto the field in the weight room,” he said. “The fog (from the fog machine) was coming in. You can’t see anything, and you hear the countdown. That was my favorite part of today.”

Amazingly, O’Toole was maybe the coolest character out on the field at the moment of truth.

“Coach (Dana) Holgorsen asked me about that last night. It’s kind of like I told him. I build it up more in my head, but once I get on the field it all goes away. It’s all muscle memory. I have to stay true to my technique and hope my muscle memory takes over and I hit the kick,” he explained.

Even when he stood there and knew that if they returned the punt into WVU territory it could lead to a field goal that cost the game.

They didn’t. In fact, on those five punts in which he averaged 50.6 yards, William & Mary managed to earn only three return yards. Not three yards per punt.

Three total yards.

All of that is what they call hidden yardage.

“He was averaging over 50 yards a punt and that’s hidden yardage that put our defense in a great position all day,” Holgorsen said.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Jackie Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball

    It is Jackie Robinson Day as I sit here writing this today, and I feel as though I am doing it in a world gone mad.
    Every player in Major League Baseball wore No. 42 on Tuesday in honor of Jackie Robinson, the man who took racism’s best shot and integrated the game that was known then as the National Pastime even though it was as white a Ku Klux Klan robe.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

  • WVU signs guard; Adrian arrested for DUI

    There was something good and something bad for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins this past weekend as Kansas junior college player Tarik Phillip committed to play for the Mountaineers but rising sophomore Nathan Adrian was charged with Under 21 DUI after he was stopped at 1:20 a.m. Sunday for an expired registration sticker.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

    The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

    April 14, 2014

  • WVU baseball drops seventh straight game

    One’s athletic skills are tested on a daily basis but every so often other aspects of an athlete’s makeup are tested, often far more important aspects in the game of life.

    April 14, 2014

  • Gold-Blue Game answers few questions at quarterback

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
    He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.

    April 13, 2014

  • Moore ‘back at home’ under center

    There are a couple of ways to look at what Logan Moore did this spring after being moved back to quarterback and given a chance to compete for what is a wide open job, as wide open at the end of the spring as it was coming in.
    The first is to say that he didn’t wow Dana Holgorsen to the point that he’s willing to say he’s the leader going into summer drills, but that would be shortsighted considering from where Moore came.

    April 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU punter turns heads at linebacker

    They call him “Huey the Punter.”
    His real name is Houstin Syvertson. His real position is not punter. Not anymore, anyway.
    To be honest, until Saturday’s spring game, not many people following West Virginia football knew the name or the nickname. They know it now.

    April 13, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads