No. 23 West Virginia needs OT to beat Marshall
HUNTINGTON, W.Va (AP) – Geno Smith didn’t want to be known as the first West Virginia quarterback to lose to Marshall.
Smith rallied No. 23 West Virginia from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime and Tyler Bitancurt’s 20-yard field goal in the first extra session lifted the Mountaineers to a 24-21 victory over Marshall on Friday night.
Smith, a sophomore making his second career start, turned in the Mountaineers’ first 300-yard passing performance since Jarrett Brown did it against East Carolina in the second game a year ago.
“I’m always extremely confident in myself and this is something that I’ve done numerous times in high school,” Smith said. “But to do this on such a big stage in such a meaningful game and (at) their home, I think that’s really big for our team.
“It showed us that we just have to keep fighting and keep believing in one another, because at many points in that game we could have given up. We just kept fighting and came up with a victory.”
Brian Anderson threw three touchdown passes for Marshall (1-1) and the Thundering Herd appeared to have the outcome in hand after jumping ahead 21-6 early in the fourth.
West Virginia (2-0) twice drove more than 90 yards for a touchdown down the stretch, including Smith’s 5-yard TD toss to Will Johnson with 12 seconds left. Smith then threw to Jock Sanders in the back of the end zone on the 2-point conversion try to send the game into overtime tied at 21-21.
After Bitancurt’s third field goal of the game, Marshall’s Tyler Warner missed a 39-yard attempt wide right to end it.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart reminded his team at halftime that the Mountaineers trailed Marshall 13-6 in Huntington after two quarters in 2007. That team rallied for a 48-23 win, won the Big East title and went on to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
“What I talked to the team tonight about was resolve,” said Stewart, who needed the late heroics to avoid what would have been the most disappointing loss in his three seasons. “It just shows you how we grew as a team.”
West Virginia improved to 10-0 all-time against Marshall. Except for their first meeting in 1911, this one was the closest in the series between the state’s only Bowl Subdivision schools.
Marshall was coming off a 45-7 loss at Ohio State last week and was a heavy underdog to the Mountaineers. Despite getting outscored 141-43 in four games since the in-state series resumed in 2006, there was a sense that Marshall wasn’t going to lie down against its northern neighbor.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday, the Mountaineers’ recruiting coordinator the past two seasons, brought inside knowledge of his former team. Former WVU offensive graduate assistant JaJuan Seider is Marshall’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, while three ex-graduate assistants at WVU have similar roles at Marshall.
“There are no moral victories for Marshall,” Holliday said. “I think our guys ran out of gas a little bit. We don’t have a lot of depth. They made plays when they had to and we didn’t.”
Smith completed 32 of 45 passes for 316 yards. He went 17 of 22 for 168 yards in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
“I just wanted to keep moving the chains,” Smith said. “We knew that we had to score two touchdowns. My thought process is to just move the chains and touchdowns will happen.”
That didn’t seem possible the way Marshall’s defense had turned back the Mountaineers. West Virginia got inside Marshall’s 30-yard line four times in the first three quarters but came away with only two field goals.
Bitancurt’s 45-yard attempt was blocked by Johnny Jones late in the third quarter. That gave Jones six blocked field goals for his career, including one at Ohio State last week.
Anderson then drove Marshall 56 yards in seven plays, capping the drive with a 12-yard TD toss to Antavious Wilson on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 21-6 lead.
West Virginia looked as if it would become the latest Big East team to stumble on the road, following Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Cincinnati from a week earlier.
Marshall had a chance to pad its lead after Smith fumbled at the West Virginia 16, but Marshall’s Tron Martinez fumbled the ball away to the Mountaineers at the 4.
Smith and Noel Devine then went to work.
Devine, who rushed for 112 yards on 23 carries, capped the drive with a 4-yard sweep around left end with 5:12 remaining to cut it to 21-13.
The Mountaineers got the ball back again at their 2-yard line with 3:09 left.
Smith went 9 of 13 on the drive and kept it going with a 20-yard scrambling run.
Marshall’s Omar Brown was called for pass interference with 35 seconds left, giving West Virginia a first down at the Thundering Herd 2.
After Smith was tackled for a loss by Vinny Curry at the 5, he found Johnson in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown on the next play, then hit a wide-open Sanders for the conversion try.
West Virginia got the ball first in overtime. Smith lost 9 yards on a run on the first play, but things got better from there. A 13-yard pass to Tavon Austin was followed by runs of 7 and 2 yards by Devine to put the ball at the 3, setting up Bitancurt’s go-ahead field goal.
Andre Booker lost 8 yards on Marshall’s first play of overtime and Anderson then threw two straight incompletions. Warner’s field goal try sent a groan through the record stadium crowd of 41,382, while West Virginia’s sideline erupted in jubilation.
“It’s unacceptable to lose a game at Marshall,” Holliday said. “I can’t tolerate it. We’ve got to come back and find a way to win.”