The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 5, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - A debut not like any other

MORGANTOWN — It was the tail end of the “Mountaineer Mantrip,” which, at 300 or so yards, pales in comparison to Mao Tse Tung’s “Long March” of 8,000 miles to power in China but effectively accomplished what it set out to do, when the Dana Holgorsen era truly began at West Virginia.

His team, led by the Mountaineer mascot and the cheerleaders, reveled in the love poured forth by 5,000 or more mostly gold-clad students and fans upon them, basking in the sun of a Sunday afternoon.

The team entered the stadium at the hospital end of the stadium and wound its way through the then-empty stands and entered the field at Section 109.

As they gathered at midfield, the coaching staff entered behind them, with the normally casually dressed Holgorsen looking quite uncomfortable in a sports coat over a shirt and tie. He was escorted by a cadre of eight state troopers, reminiscent of the old days when Rich Rodriguez was often surrounded by more troopers than then-Gov. Joe Manchin when he was in attendance at Mountaineer games.

Holgorsen changed his comfort level almost as soon as he set foot on the field, stripping off the sports coat and loosening the tie.

Two full hours remained before kickoff of the Friends of Coal Bowl, two hours for the fans to learn that the Mountaineers would be wearing gold tops and white pants for the occasion, that the smoking helmet that Rodriguez had brought into play for the team’s introduction had been scrapped, although they did release clouds of smoke into the air of the non-smoking stadium.

A half an hour later another event occurred that required proper chronicling, that being the opening of the gates and a surge of fans — both WVU and Marshall — into the arena ... some heading to the new beer kiosks.

The first beer sold — at least as far as one pair of eyes could see — was sold just minutes after the gates swung open, and the purchaser was one Anthony Williams, of Washington, D.C.

Informed that he had purchased the first beer, at least at that kiosk and quite probably in the stadium, he smiled and, holding his Budweiser aloft, said:

“I am a beer afficionado.”

At $7, he was told he better be an afficionado.

“No problem with $7. I paid $9 at the Redskins game this week,” he answered.

Asked what he was doing at the game, with his wife, Caressa, and 7-year-old son, Tyvone, he informed he was there because Tyvone’s brother, his son Avery, just so happens to be a freshman defensive back for the Mountaineers, one of 12 freshmen dressing for the game.

Who knew that by the time the game would end at 10:24, nine hours and 14 minutes after the Mantrip had started, Avery Williams would have metaphysically gone from freshman to senior and brother Tyvone was being recruited by the Mountaineers.

As things turned out, the Holgorsen era debut lasted so

long that it may have been the first game in college football history to begin on ESPN and finish on The Weather Channel, Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore handling the play-by-play for the sports network before turning it over to Jim Cantore and Stephanie Steele.

This was one of the most incredible moments in the old stadium’s history, as rain and lightning delayed the game so often that even the players were getting tired of sitting around playing video games and cards.

It took so long, in fact, that Holgorsen said he had thought of turning it into study time.

Right.

Three times the players were removed from the field during the first three quarters and 24 seconds.

Enough rain fell to turn the drought-stricken Texas into the Gulf of Mexico.

And lightning? It went pop in the night, over and over and over again.

It was so bad that it was believable when ESPN reported a fan from section 20 was struck by lightning at around 6 p.m., even though that was so fictional that it would have been better served being on “The Colbert Report.”

The report was denied vehemently by a WVU official and officially by the head of the state trooper contingent assigned to the game.

That the rain and lightning came was good in only one respect: it detracted from the way the Mountaineers played offensively.

When the game began, the Holgorsen offense was supposed to be raining points on Marshall, but that just wasn’t the case. True, this was a team that was superior in talent to the Thundering Herd, a team was going to win this game and win it big, but it was one that artistically was a failure.

Of the 61 snaps, 11 were either running plays or completed passes that went for zero yards or losses.

In truth, the Mountaineer offensive line was overrun for much of the night, which, in turn, forced Geno Smith to run for his life. That he was so accomplished at it is evidenced by the 34 points WVU did score — although the seven key points came on Tavon Austin’s 100-yard kickoff return —and by the fact that he is still breathing and able to play next week.

Rushed all night, scrambling all night, Smith completed 26 of 35 for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That he completed them wasn’t as amazing as that he got them off at all.

“He made some big third down plays,” Holgorsen would say.

And every one was needed, because this really could have been a disaster.

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

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