MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen frequently says he is not a very nostalgic guy, but it’s a safe bet that he will never forget his first game as West Virginia University’s head football coach.
His first day game at Milan Puskar Stadium turned into his first night game, and it also turned out to be the longest football game in Mountaineer Field history, easily exceeding seven hours. When it finally ended, West Virginia was declared a 34-13 winner with 14:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The game was officially called at 10:24 p.m., and the actual game time was 2:25 minutes (minus the two long delays).
A joint statement was issued by WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck and Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick explaining the ending of the game.
“After consultation with the Office of the Commissioner of the Big East Conference and the Office of Commissioner of Conference USA, 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 between Marshall University and West Virginia University has been stopped in the fourth quarter, resulting in a final score of 34-13."
The first delay occurred at 5:47 p.m., stopping action with 4:59 remaining in the third quarter just after Tavon Austin electrified the crowd with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It matched three other Mountaineer players for the longest TD return in school history, most recently performed by Shawn Terry at Maryland in 2001.
Following Austin’s touchdown, the teams left the field and fans were evacuated from the stadium when Mother Nature electrified Morgantown, creating a weather delay that lasted almost two hours, with action initially slated to resume at 8 p.m.
Fans who remained took cover underneath the stadium façade to wait out the storm.
"I'm proud of the kids as far as how they handled the situation," said Holgorsen. "It was important for us to be excited to play and they had a lot of energy, probably had too much early on. It was important for us to give good effort and I thought we did so for three quarters, and probably would have been there for the fourth quarter."
The teams returned to the field at 7:45 p.m., but were quickly removed while the two teams were warming up when more lightning was detected in the area. Eventually, the game resumed at 8:50 p.m. and the third quarter ended with West Virginia staring at a third and goal at the Marshall 3.
Before that, the Mountaineers forced a Marshall punt and quarterback Geno Smith successfully went to the air, completing passes of 18 yards to Devon Brown and seven and nine yards to Ivan McCartney, moving the ball to the Herd 14. An eight-yard pass to Tyler Urban placed the ball at the Marshall 3 when the third quarter finally ended 3 ½ hours after it began.
Vernard Roberts started the fourth quarter with a two-yard run that ended just short of the goal line, but Marshall’s Delvin Johnson was called for a personal foul, giving the Mountaineers a fresh set of downs at the 1. Robert then slammed in to give WVU a 21-point lead.
Play was stopped once again with 14:36 remaining in the game and was not resumed. The two delays totaled four hours and 22 minutes.
Yesterday, the Notre Dame-USF game was delayed by bad weather before it was eventually completed, and the Michigan-Western Michigan game was called in the third quarter with the Wolverines leading the Broncos 34-10.
"We have a 20-hour rule and these guys played eight, so it gets to a point where enough is enough," said Holgorsen. "I understood the situation, everyone wants to play and have a full game, but it gets to a point to where it would be hard for those kids to go back out there after eight hours."
Marshall got on the scoreboard first several hours earlier when Andre Booker took a Corey Smith punt at his 13 and followed a convoy of blockers up the near sideline for an 87-yard touchdown. Booker’s punt return TD was the second-longest in Mountaineer Field history, falling five yards short of East Carolina’s Derrek Batson’s 92-yard TD against the Mountaineers in 1992.
West Virginia answered with three long scoring drives – a 10-play, 71-yard march that ended with a Tyler Bitancurt 27-yard field goal, a 10-play, 62-yard drive that ended with an Ivan McCartney 4-yard TD reception, and a 13-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in Stedman Bailey’s 15-yard touchdown catch.
Bitancurt tacked on his second field goal with 1:55 left in the half, a 43-yarder, giving the Mountaineers a 20-7 lead before Marshall had its best drive of the game. Cato hit Jermaine Kelson for first down yardage on third and one, and Cato later hooked up with Antavious Wilson for 26 yards to the West Virginia 38. Tron Martinez’s 22-yard run got the ball to the Mountaineer 14, eventually setting up Tyler Warner’s 24-yard field goal to end the first half.
Warner added his second field goal with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter, a 21-yarder, just ahead of Austin’s kickoff return.
Smith completed 26 of 35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
Bailey led all receivers with 76 yards receiving on five catches.
"It's a work in progress," Holgorsen said of his offense. "Vernard Roberts came in and gave us a spark in the second quarter. It's obvious that they were going to take away the run. They put a lot of people up, they blitzed a lot of people and it's something that we need to handle. I don't think the offense was terrible, but we are going to watch the tape and try to get better."
Martinez was the game’s top rusher with 76 yards on 10 carries.
The Mountaineers finished the game with 291 yards of offense while Marshall posted 187 total yards.
"They played well," Holgorsen said of West Virginia's defense. "They had four or five three-and-outs. It was a very solid defensive performance. I'm proud of (defensive coordinator) Jeff Casteel and those guys, and we had some guys who stepped up and played well."
Four West Virginia ball carriers managed just 42 yards rushing on 26 carries.
"I've never seen anything like tonight, unfortunately that's the way it happened," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. "It was the decision of the conferences and athletic directors, so I had no choice.
"We could be playing this game until midnight, but I don't think that's best for the kids."
The last time West Virginia experienced a weather delay similar to this was 20 years ago against Virginia Tech in 1991, although that delay was not nearly as long as this one. The Hokies ended up winning the game 20-14.
The Mountaineers (1-0) will be back in action next Saturday against Norfolk State in a 1 p.m. game that will be televised on ROOT SPORTS. Marshall (0-1) will take on Southern Mississippi in Huntington next weekend.