Landon: Marshall feels sting of missed opportunity
MORGANTOWN -- Marshall let the biggest potential victory in program history slip through its fingers.
A first ever win over West Virginia University was here for the taking Saturday.
All the Herd had to do was grab it.
All the Herd had to do was take it.
All the Herd had to do was make it happen.
Instead, Marshall fumbled and bumbled away the chance for a historic victory, allowing WVU to prevail, 24-7, before 54,432 cold, wet fans at Mountaineer Field.
And how very frustrating.
"This is the most disappointed I've ever felt after a football game," said Marshall tight end Lee Smith. "We just made some crucial mistakes and they came back to hurt us.
"I'm very proud of my teammates for their effort, but this is one of the most disappointing losses since I've been here.
"I think we proved just how good Marshall really is. We had a chance to win it, we just didn't get it done."
One of those crucial mistakes was a fumble by Marshall star running back Darius Marshall at WVU's 8-yard line early in the second quarter.
Considering Marshall led, 7-0, and the Mountaineers already were reeling from the absence of injured quarterback Jarrett Brown, extending the lead to 14-0 could have produced devastating consequences.
"There's no question," said Smith somberly. "I think their backs would have been against the wall. And, then, they would have had to do things outside their comfort zone.
"If we would have gone up, 14-0, they would have had to do things they weren't comfortable doing. And I think our defense would have beat up on them pretty bad."
But, Marshall simply couldn't make the plays -- the winning plays -- that were necessary.
Kase Whitehead's less than booming 29-yard punt after Marshall's first possession of the second half was a prime example. The poor punt gave WVU a short field, as the Mountaineers took over at MU's 46-yard line.
Seven plays later, WVU took a 10-7 lead on Noel Devine's 14-yard touchdown run. The Herd never led again.
But it could have.
In fact, Marshall should have.
The Herd was driving when a bad snap to Darius Marshall, who was quarterbacking MU's version of the "Wildcat" formation, resulted in a 13-yard loss. Marshall overcame that, however, with consecutive completions from Brian Anderson to Cody Slate to move the ball inside the red zone at the 18-yard line.
But, again, Marshall couldn't produce the big play. Instead, the center snap went over Anderson's head for a 17-yard loss.
Even then, it appeared MU might salvage the possession when Anderson hit Slate in the seam with a pass, but after a 14-yard gain Marshall's tight end was decked by WVU middle linebacker Reed Williams and fumbled the ball away.
"The game was there for the taking," said Slate. "They gave us chances. I fumbled. Darius fumbled. We threw interceptions. We put the defense in bad situations.
"I mean, me and Darius, if we want to be the guys on offense we can't turn the ball over in big games like this."
But they did.
Everything went Marshall's way in the first half. The Herd got every break, every call, every advantage.
Mother Nature, the football gods and karma were all on Marshall's side.
Yet, the Herd still couldn't produce a winning performance.
And how very frustrating.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at (304) 526-2827. E-mail him at email@example.com.