CLEMSON, S.C. — Marshall’s biggest play against Clemson came before the game ever began.
When The Thundering Herd took the field that Sept. 4, 1999, at Death Valley, MU coach Bobby Pruett took his team onto the field just as the Tigers emerged from their locker room, confusing the crowd of 80,250, which didn’t know whether to boo Marshall or cheer Clemson.
It was a tactic Pruett had used before.
The twist, though, came when Herd players reached their own 40-yard line.
Marshall players stood at the 40, looked up the hill where the Tigers locker room was and waved for the Clemson to come down.
The entrance the Tigers bill as “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football” had just been turned up a notch.
“We thrived in those types of atmospheres,” Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington said, noting that he and his teammates weren’t intimidated at all and wanted to let the Tigers and their fans know it. “It was a chance for us to showcase our talent, showcase how good of a team we were. We always had a chip on our shoulders because we knew that people didn’t respect us as much as we thought they should.”
Clemson’s players were furious. The crowd was frenzied. There stood the Herd boldly calling out Clemson on its own field. One Tigers’ player took particular offense as the teams jawed at one another near midfield and made an obscene gesture to the Herd. ... right in front of an official. That finger cost the Tigers 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. What a costly 45 feet they proved to be.
Billy Malashevich kicked a 24-yard field goal on the opening drive to give the Herd a 3-0 lead. The difference in the final score? Three points — 13-10. Would the former Hurricane High School star have made it from the 39? Maybe, but the longer distance was less of a certainty.
That was one of few officials’ calls to go Marshall’s way that day. The Herd was penalized 17 times for 136 yards. After the initial unsportmanlike conduct penalty, Clemson was flagged nine times for 68 yards.
Marshall overcame three penalties on its game-winning drive, which officially was 73 yards but covered 113 because of the flags. Pruett and his players thought the calls were phantom penalties, but argued to no avail.
“We were on the verge of getting ripped off in that game,” Herd tackle Steve Sciullo said.
The Herd benefited, however, from a call the officials missed. On Doug Chapman’s winning 7-yard touchdown run behind tackle Mike Guilliams and tight end Gregg Kellett with 1:10 left in the game, Sciullo jumped offsides.
“I was happy they didn’t catch me,” Sciullo said.