EDITOR’S NOTE: The ranking of moments on The Herald-Dispatch’s Marshall University football’s Top 50 list sparked much conversation and debate, but which one deserved the No. 1 spot was unanimous.
The Young Thundering Herd’s 15-13 last-second upset of Xavier on Sept. 25, 1971 at Fairfield Stadium is the consensus top choice. The triumph was Marshall’s first after the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash and brought then, and still does now, cheers and tears.
Following is the game story from that day:
Marshall University’s Young Thundering Herd stunned Xavier, 15-13, here Saturday and it’s doubtful any Marshall team ever won a bigger game or a more dramatic one.
The victory at Fairfield Stadium before an estimated record crowd of 13,000, including Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., came just ten months and 11 days after the jetliner crash of Nov. 14, 1970, that dealt football at MU a staggering blow.
And so it is — time has not run out on Marshall football. And it did not run out Saturday. The winning touchdown came on the last play of the game, and it signaled just the beginning for the Young Herd.
Fleet Terry Gardner, a freshman fullback from Portsmouth, Ohio, took a screen pass for 13 yards and the score. Reggie Oliver, a sophomore quarterback from Tuscaloosa, Ala., threw it. The play is titled “213 bootleg screen.” And it’s one that Marshall fans will remember for a long, long time.
When the Herd lined up there were eight seconds on the scoreboard clock and by the time MU tackle Jack Crabtree cut down Xavier’s Leo Burby the game was over. Burby, a defensive tackle, was the only man with a shot at the sprinting Gardner, and Crabtree, a sophomore from Tazewell, Va., laid him low.
Pandemonium erupted — both on the AstroTurfed field and in the refurbished Fairfield stands. There was no reason to try to restore order and attempt the extra point.
Oliver did not look the part of the neophyte making only his second varsity start as he directed his team 48 yards in 10 plays for the winning score. Including the winning toss, the 6-2, 190-pounder completed five of ten throws in a minute and 18 seconds. That’s all the time that was left after George Jackson fielded John Phillips’ punt at the Xavier 49 and returned it one yard.
Oliver dug himself a hole, though, missing three passes from the 48 before hitting Jerry Arrasmith for 11 yards and a first down at the 37. Then Reggie came right back with a sideline pattern to Kelly Sherwood for a carbon copy pickup to the 26.
The air game almost backfired on the next play, an attempt to tight end Tom Smyth, as the Musketeers’ Stan Thompson had an interception in his hands but let it slip away.
Oliver wasn’t through with Smyth, though, clicking for an eight-yard gain before having an attempt to Arrasmith batted away by Musky linebacker Dick West. The clock stopped with 20 seconds showing.
On fourth and two, Oliver picked on Arrasmith again, this time over the middle for five yards and a first down at the 13. That set up the scoring pass to Gardner.
The winning play was inserted into the MU play book just this week. “Two-13 bootleg” was one of the few passes that went well last Saturday when Marshall opened with a 29-6 loss at Morehead. On the suggestion of receiver coach Red Dawson, a screen off similar play action was designed.
Oliver tied two records with the touchdown strike to Gardner, setting his passing totals for the day at 20-for-43. The 20 completions matched a record set at Oxford, Ohio, in 1969 by Bobby Harris against Miami. And his 43 attempts equaled Ted Shoebridge’s total of last September at Toledo.
For the day the air game of Oliver and David Walsh, who hit one of four for 16 yards, totaled 256 yards, and Oliver alone passed for 240.
The latter ranks third by an individual behind Shoebridge’s 312 against Ohio U in 1969 and Howard Lee Miller’s 234 against Buffalo in 1964.
The Herd’s 21 first downs — 15 passing and three each by the rush and penalties — were only four short of school standard.
Freshman split end Lanny Steed was the favorite target pulling in eight aerials for 113 yards.
Sharing Marshall scoring with Gardner were Blakely Smith and Oliver. Smith, a walk-on soccer-style place kicker, playing in his first football game ever, put the Young Herd on the scoreboard in the first quarter with a 31-yard field goal. Oliver capped a 73-yard fourth-quarter march with a two-yard quarterback keeper that put MU on top 9-6 with 11:58 remaining in the game.
Xavier, which went down to its second defeat of the season, got a touchdown in the third quarter on a one-yard plunge by Ivy Williams, and on a 48-yard punt return by John Gompers in the last period.
Gompers’ starting run came with just 4:09 left in the final stanza, and Ed Huber’s placement gave the Musketeers a 13-9 margin.
Defensively the Herd stopped the Musketeers inside its 20 yard line twice — once at the 12 before the end of the first half, and at the 13 just before Gompers’ scoring punt return.
The Musketeers were also stopped at the Herd 33, 37 and 27, falling twice on fourth down and short yardage situations. Leading tacklers for Marshall were linebackers Charles Henry and Rick Meckstroth, in on 20 and 18, respectively, and middle guard O’dell Graves with 17. Graves was high in solos with three, while Henry had two.
Chuck Wright and Graves led in tackles for losses, costing the Musketeers 26 and 14 yards.
The game began as a punting duel. John Phillips of X, who booted ten times and averaged 44.5 per try, was matched on occasions by MU’s freshman Bob Eshbaugh.
Marshall got its first scoring drive untracked last in the first quarter from the Xavier 32 after stopping the Muskies on a fourth-and-two. Helped along by a pass interference call for a first down at the X 47, Oliver marched his team 54 yards to the Xavier 14 nine plays. Key plays were passes of 18 yards to fullback Randy Kerr, and 12 to Steed.
On fourth-and-seven, Blakely Smith came on to test his soccer-style kick and as the first quarter ended put three points on the board.
The Herd didn’t threaten in the second quarter, but the Green defense stopped Xavier at its 37 and 12.
The second half was delayed approximately five minutes as members of The Robe, an MU leadership organization, and spectators corralled a loose and irritated Marco, Marshall’s mascot buffalo.
After three plays, the Herd was forced to punt. Eshbaugh’s boot rolled dead at the MU 49, but an Xavier clip moved the ball back to the Xavier 36. From there the Musketeers showed the power offense they are noted for as Al Banks and Ivy Williams slashed the MU defense for 48 yards, and quarterback Paul Smith hit two of four passes for 25 more.
Banks got a key run on the drive, picking up 26 yards on third-and-27 from the X 42 of the MU 31. Williams got the first down. Smith scrambled for 11 yards and a first down on third-and-seven, then flipped 12 yards to Williams for a first down at the one. Williams plunged in for the score.
Huber, a lefty kicker, converted but Xavier was penalized for illegal procedure, and his second attempt was wide. Xavier had a 6-3 lead, and carried it into the final quarter.
Three plays into the last period, the Herd stopped an Xavier thrust at 27 when Gary Dorsey, a defensive end, broke up Tim Dydo’s fourth-and-two pass intended for Banks.
Oliver started the Herd toward its first touchdown with an option play on which he lateraled to John Johnstonbaugh for 12 yards. Then he went to the air. He hit Steed for 14, Sherwood for nine, Steed again for seven and the Herd was on the Xavier 31.
Oliver’s next pass, intended for Gardner, was incomplete, but a personal foul against Xavier gave MU a first down at the 16. Oliver went right back to Gardner and the speedster from Portsmouth West high just missed by two yards scoring both touchdowns. Reggie carried in on the next play with 11:58 remaining to play. Blakely Smith’s try for the point after failed, but Marshall was back on top, 9-6.
After the Herd forced a Musky punt, the losers appeared to get a break when they recovered a Gardner fumble at the Marshall 41. Smith moved his team to the Marshall 13, but turned over the football when he tried to run out of the pocket on fourth-and-four only to run into Gene Nance one yard short.
From its ten, Marshall couldn’t move and Eshbaugh pointed to Gompers at the MU 48. Gompers started up the middle, was hit, and spun to the east sideline which was wide open. The score at 4:09 painted a bleak picture for Coach Lengyel’s crew.
Inside the two-minute mark, and Xavier on its own 25, Chuck Wright nailed Smith for a nine-yard loss on third-and-four. That turned the ball over to the Herd for its last bow.
And what a bow!
Next Saturday Marshall will take its 1-1 record against Miami in Oxford. Saturday, the Redskins played a night contest in Dayton.