The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 5, 2011

Stormy start

WVU tops Herd in weather-shortened game, 34-13

MORGANTOWN — They told us all that Dana Holgorsen would be breaking records as West Virginia’s head football coach, but who knew the first record would be to play a rain- and lightning-delayed game that would last 6 hours and 47 minutes?

Who could have guessed that his team would spend more time in the locker room playing video games than they did on the field playing football, there being 2 hours and 25 minutes of playing time and 4 hours and 22 minutes of delays?

And, when the last bolt of lightning had crackled across the sky, one hitting so close to Milan Puskar Stadium that it set off a false ESPN report that a fan had been struck, Holgorsen had his first victory, 34-13, over Marshall in what certainly is the ill-fated Friends of Coal Bowl.

That it ended with 14:36 left in the fourth quarter by mutual agreement was more a mercy killing than anything else, Marshall having no chance to win the game as it lost its 11th game to WVU without ever winning one.

The fans were long gone by then, as was the beer that was sold for the first time in Milan Puskar Stadium, and as was ESPN, which had already decided that if the game resumed it would be on ESPNU or ESPN News, who combined probably could not have produced an audience to match the 60,758 who were on hand when the day started.

It ended in typical Coal Bowl fashion, after long negotiations between WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, Marshall A.D. Mike Hamrick and the commissioners of both the Big East and Conference USA.

“After consultation with the [commissioners], as well as the medical staffs of Marshall University and West Virginia University, and based on the pending weather forecast, as well as the physical and mental fatigue of the student-athletes, it has been decided that the football game has been stopped in the fourth quarter, resulting in a final score of 34-13,” read a statement issued jointly.

“I’m proud of the kids at how they handled the situation,” Holgorsen said. “They didn’t gripe, they hung in there and they probably would have been ready to play had we gone back out there. I’m glad it turned out the way it did.

“We have a 20-hour rule and these guys played eight, so it gets to a point where enough is enough. I understood the situation — everyone wants to play and play a full game — but it gets to a point where it would be hard for those kids to go out there after eight hours.”

Marshall coach Doc Holliday, the one-time WVU assistant, concurred.   

“We could be playing this game until midnight but I don’t think that’s best for the kids. Everyone was disappointed. They want to play. It was out of our hands.”

For those who could not make it to the end, which came at 10:24 p.m., which made this a day-night doubleheader of sorts, the Mountaineers won the game on the legs — yes, the legs — of quarterback Geno Smith, the return ability of Tavon Austin and a defense that would give up nothing more than two field goals, nine first downs and only 187 yards.

Smith was really masterful for WVU, completing 26 of 35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

He was at his best after the Mountaineers had been stunned by Andre Booker’s 87-yard first-quarter punt return to take a 7-0 lead, one that would become 7-3 on the first of two Tyler Bitancurt field goals.

Early in the second quarter Smith hit his first TD pass of the young season from 4 yards out, connecting with Ivan McCartney, to give the Mountaineers a 10-7 lead.

The next time WVU got the ball Smith took control as he picked up first downs with completions on 3rd and 13, 3rd and 10 and 3rd and 16, each time having to evade a tough pass rough before throwing.

“He kept the play alive a lot early. He made some good plays on third down,” Holgorsen said. “Protection always can be better, but I give Marshall a lot of credit with what they were doing defensively. They put a lot of pressure on us.”

But they could not tackle Smith.

“That was an incredibly long drive,” Smith said of the drive that covered 62 yards on 13 plays in 6 minutes and 10 seconds. “I don’t think I’m fast, but get faster when I’m chased.”

It was in the third quarter that the game got crazy, Marshall closing to 20-13 but having to kick off.

Austin took the ball at the goal line and ran it back 100 yards, the sixth return of that length in Mountaineer history and Austin’s second.

It was a crucial play, for time was called due to lightning after the extra point. Had he been tackled that might have changed the game around and the decision about playing with a one-TD lead, instead of two.

From that point on, the focus was on the weather ... as in whether or not the game would be completed.

It wasn’t, and the funny thing was, no one seemed to mind.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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