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Herd unable to finish games

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 11:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Virginia Tech's 29-21 triple-overtime win over Marshall on Saturday was the Hokies' 700th victory as a program.

And Marshall gift-wrapped the win and put a pretty little bow on it before serving it up as a present.

The last two weeks of Marshall football has shown one glaring observation which no one in the program can run from -- one that has been prevalent in the past as well.

Marshall is still learning what it takes to finish big games.

And it's becoming an extremely tough lesson as the Herd stares at a 2-2 record heading into its bye week.

"We just have to hold on," Marshall freshman nickelback Corey Tindal said. "Like I say, finish. That's the only thing this team is missing is a finish."

Whether the miscues in the fourth-quarter against Ohio two weeks ago when the Herd had a chance to tie or Saturday's contest when Marshall couldn't find a way to clinch the victory late, the team still hasn't found its killer instinct late.

It could easily be argued that Marshall had more talent than either Ohio last week or Virginia Tech, but at the end of each contest, the Herd was hung with a loss that it won't soon forget.

The difference?

Ohio is a team that has turned around under head coach Frank Solich and averaged nine wins a year in the last four seasons.

And no team has been more consistent nationally than Frank Beamer's Hokies, who have made a bowl in 20 straight years.

Those teams expect to win close games and they know how to finish close games out.

The Herd has not yet learned how to do so.

Saturday's three-overtime loss was not the first time it has happened to the Herd over the last two seasons, although it certainly magnified things a bit.

In looking at the 2012 season, there were six games in which the Herd struggled to finish strong.

Against Ohio, Tulsa and East Carolina -- all of which would've been signature victories for the program -- Marshall led in the fourth-quarter.

Look even deeper and the Herd also finished poorly in three of its five wins on the year in 2012.

Against Rice, the Herd led by 10 points with just 4:10 remaining and were it not for a poor decision to dive for the end zone by Taylor McHargue, Marshall likely would've lost that contest.

In the win over Memphis, Marshall led 31-7 before the Tigers got within three points with a chance to tie before the Herd held on for a 38-28 win.

It was a similar scenario against Houston when the Herd led 38-17, only to see the Cougars tie the game with 21 straight points before Justin Haig's 44-yard field goal won it with just seconds remaining.

Now, 2013 is a different season with new faces, but the same pattern has reared its head for the Herd. It is a pattern that neither Marshall coaches or players want to see.

Saturday's game featured many, many plays in which the Herd emerges victorious if it is made.

Among them are a fumbled punt snap that was run for a first down, a fourth-down pass over the middle in between two defenders of a zone, a tipped pass that goes for a touchdown, conservative play-calling that led to a blocked 40-yard field goal in the rain and lastly, a dropped pass in the end zone on a fourth-down that would have kept the Herd alive.

"I still feel like we played hard, but some things happened," Hunter said. "We have to finish those out, though. It's never acceptable to lose the game. We have to finish the game off."

If one of those plays are made, Marshall walks away from soggy Lane Stadium with a program-changing victory that erases the memories of last week's disappointing loss to Ohio.

Whether it is the execution of players or the conservative nature of coaches late in tight games, the Herd needs to use the bye week to identify what is keeping a good team from getting over the hump.

The non-conference portion of the season has now ended and the Herd will turn its attention to Conference USA where conference games are always tighter and often come down to the wire.

If the Herd has those Conference USA dreams in their sights, it is a simple concept for the next eight games.

Finish or be finished.

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