Listless loss will be hard to forget
It all seemed too good to be true in this topsy-turvy COVID-19 world.
The first undefeated season in 20 years? National rankings of No. 15 in both the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the Amway Coaches Poll? A potentially lucrative bowl game?
Yet, we held onto the dream with both hands, clutching it to our beating hearts and wanting so very badly to believe the dream actually could come true.
But all that abruptly ended when unheralded Rice and its 1-2 record pulled off an unthinkable 20-0 upset victory over Marshall University before an announced crowd of 10,429 in Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
The pipe dream went up in smoke.
And all the fervent hopes, winsome dreams and welcome respites from our coronavirus-wracked world wafted away in elusive wisps.
Just how could that happen?
It’s all because Marshall’s world went inexplicably, irretrievably flat on Saturday. Why, even Ferdinand Magellan couldn’t have proven the Thundering Herd’s world wasn’t flat on Saturday.
That’s because it was.
Flat on emotion. Flat on energy. Flat on performance.
Flat. Flat. Flat.
At one point an exasperated but still hopeful female fan shouted, “C’mon, Herd, wake up!”
It never happened. The nightmare just went on and on and on for 60 intolerable minutes. When the scoreboard clock finally struck all zeroes it was a welcome relief.
But the nightmare still wasn’t over for Marshall’s disappointed players.
“I think the loss is our fault,” said Alex Mollette, redshirt senior left guard, referring to the Herd’s offensive unit. “I don’t think we ever got into a rhythm. Our defense played their butts off. We were flat. And we could never get into a rhythm.”
It was obvious.
The usually potent Marshall offense struggled to run the ball, managing just 80 yards rushing, and wunderkind quarterback Grant Wells suffered through a five-interception day.
“I’m very disappointed in the way we played,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “Anytime you turn the ball over five times you’re going to have a hard time winning any game. And that’s what happened.
“Obviously, they played better than we did. They won the football game. It’s disappointing. We’ve got to get back to work on Monday.”
Some of the damage can be repaired, but other parts are unsalvageable. An undefeated season can’t be resurrected. A top-15 ranking isn’t going to happen again. Marshall’s status took a hit on Saturday.
“Obviously, nobody likes what happened,” Holliday continued. “It’s an awful, awful feeling for everybody involved. We have to put it behind us and move forward. We can’t let one game beat you twice.”
Clichés aren’t the answer, either. Perhaps, that’s why Mollette preferred to stay real.
“I just think that we messed up,” he said. “That’s a simple enough answer. Crap happens. It is what it is. We lost who we were in this game. We need to get to who we are.”
Also easier said than done.
Then, Mollette summed up this entire, crazy COVID-19 season to perfection.
“This is the hardest season to go out and play football games,” he said.
Indeed, it is. But consider the alternative. Doesn’t it beat not playing at all? Of course it does.
But don’t think for a minute that Marshall’s football team is going to be able to wash its collective hands of this stupefying loss and act like it never happened.
When a team gets shut out for the first time in the 30-year history of Marshall’s stadium, the bad taste is going to linger.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.