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Chuck Landon: MU played it too tight with first OT chance

Sep. 22, 2013 @ 12:03 AM

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Play to win.

That's the premise, the very essence of athletics.

Yet, when a signature win was within Marshall's grasp against Virginia Tech here Saturday during the first overtime in soggy Lane Stadium, the Thundering Herd played it safe.

Instead of playing to win, Marshall played not to lose.

The result?

It was predictable.

Marshall lost a game it should have won, falling 29-21 in triple-overtime.

It shouldn't have been that way.

When Marshall stopped Virginia Tech from scoring during the first overtime, the Herd sideline exploded as though MU had won the game. It's because that is what should have happened.

The game was there for the winning.

All Marshall had to do was win it. That meant getting at least a first down. That meant moving the ball from Virginia Tech's 25-yard line to chip-shot range for place-kicker Justin Haig or, better still, winning the game with a touchdown.

But, instead, Marshall played not to lose.

On first down, running back Essray Taliaferro rushed up the middle for one yard. The next play? A rush by Taliaferro over left guard for another yard. And more of the same on third down. This time it was over left guard again for one yard.

The Herd didn't even try to move the ball. Instead, the goal was to center the ball in the best possible position for Haig to kick a game-winning field goal.

What happened?

What else?

Marshall played right into the hands of veteran Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. He has made a career out of special teams excellence. Beamer's Hokies have scored 21 touchdowns just from blocking punts and field goals.

So, it didn't exactly come as a shock when Virginia Tech's Derrick Hopkins blocked Haig's 39-yard field goal attempt to send the game into a second overtime

After all, that was the 39th blocked field goal in Beamer's career.

It is what his Hokies do.

That was Marshall's very best chance win this game, but it didn't happen because the Herd chose to play it safe.

Why?

Evidently, because Marshall didn't learn from losing 24-21 to WVU in Edwards Stadium during the 2010 season. The Herd played not to lose that day, too. That is what makes this lose so frustrating.

Explanations, anyone?

"I thought at that point it was sloppy out there," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "He (Haig) has been relatively consistent inside the 25-yard line."

Unless his kick gets blocked.

Anyone else?

"Whatever Coach Legg calls that is what I am going to do," said quarterback Rakeem Cato, referring to offensive coordinator Bill Legg.

What needed to be called was some productive plays. The sort of plays that would have brought that premature sideline victory celebration to fruition.

"I thought the game was over," said star wide receiver Tommy Shuler, referring to Virginia Tech not scoring in the first overtime. "I did."

It should have been.

Perhaps, it would have been if Marshall had played to win.

And, yes, somewhere the inimitable Herm Edwards is grimacing. The former coach turned commentator's most memorable monologue is on that very subject.

"Play to win," he thunders. "Hello? Play to win."

I wish Herm had been on MU's sideline here Saturday.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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