Lightning short-circuits Coal Bowl
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One thing was certain Sunday at the football season opener in Morgantown: Both West Virginia University and Marshall University fans were confident their team was going to win.
But inclement weather, and at least two rain delays, put a damper on playing to the last second to find a true winner. After more than four hours of delays, the game was called with the Mountaineers pulling out ahead of the Thundering Herd, 34-13.
There were also reports that a spectator was struck by lightning, but The Monongalia County Office of Homeland Security/Emergency Management and county EMS officials confirmed that no one was treated for such an injury.
The stands slowly emptied more each time the game was delayed due to weather, with virtually no fans left when the game was called after 10 p.m., a much different scene from earlier in the day.
Before the game was delayed, thousands of fans clad in gold and blue filled the blue lot in front of Milan Puskar Stadium, catching up with old friends, playing cornhole and getting ready for take on the Thundering Herd.
Marshall fans were few and far between in the sea of crushing gold, but they were hopeful and loud, not always to the delight of WVU fans.
"We are Marshall!" a few brave souls shouted when they got near a particularly rowdy WVU tailgate.
"Go home Marshall. You sure wasted money on that ticket," one WVU fan yelled at some students who were walking through the crowd.
"I just don't let that bother me," said Matt Miller, a sophomore at Marshall. "This is our year. I know it. Herd, baby!"
WVU fans begged to differ.
Hurricane resident Chris Williams said he was confident his Mounties were going to leave the stadium as champions. In fact, he predicted that if the weather held out, his team could score 70 points.
"I'm confident," he said.
Williams said while he likes seeing the Mountaineers take on any team -- and challenge -- he wasn't so tickled with the idea of a continued Friends of Coal Bowl series.
"I think it's a great thing for the state," he said. "But also it's a bad thing for each program because you've got so much. Everything is on Marshall. If they beat West Virginia it makes their season, but if West Virginia comes out and has a bad day and loses, that ruins WVU's season."
Williams, a lifelong WVU fan who said he started attending games frequently after he got out of the Marine Corps, said having the series at the beginning of the season is setting both teams up for failure.
"I mean it's a great in-state money maker and rivalry, but you're also putting both programs in jeopardy."
Erica Hapley, and her 7-year-old daughter, Sarah -- who had matching Marshall temporary tattoos on their cheeks -- said they love the rivalry.
"We're going to love it even more this year when we win," Hapley said with a smile.
There were quite a few "house divided" couples at the game, including 14-year-old friends Matt Groves and Jack Victory.
The friends, who are freshmen at Ripley High School, painted themselves in their teams' colors.
"He just likes Marshall and I like WVU and this year we talked each other in to coming in body paint," Groves said.
Victory said that he knows this is Marshall's year. "We almost had them last year, so I think this is it."
The friends went over and watched the team march in behind the mantrip, a new tradition for Mountaineer football.
"That was really cool," Groves said.
Victory said that if his team wins today, it will give him ultimate bragging rights.
"Our whole high school is WVU. So, bragging rights. That would be nice," he said.
Marshall seniors Bridget and Morgan said they headed to Morgantown to cheer on their teams because it's the last time they'll see the two in-state rivals face off while they are still students.
"We've been coming for four years, so we're really excited for this game," Morgan said.
The students said, so far, Mountaineer fans had been welcoming -- mostly.
"We've had a few hecklers, but it hasn't been too bad," Bridget said. "We personally didn't heckle when they came down, but it hasn't been too bad."
But not everyone was heckling.
"All I do, all I care about, is Mountaineers," said Morgantown resident Rocky Gall, who has been tailgating and going to games since 1981. The die-hard Mountaineer fan even had a flying WV tattooed on his chest.
"Right over my heart, where it belongs," he said. "I don't hunt, I don't fish. I don't do anything except Mountaineer football."
Gall even bought an old school bus and converted it into his tailgate station that he brings to every game.
With "each it pit" written on the site, Gall said he knows that some people get the wrong impression from the statement. "But it's got another meaning," he swears.
"I think that Mountaineers have 'it,'" he said. "We're a special type of people in this state."
Gall, who kept leaving his tailgate to shake the hands of Marshall fans and encourage them to not let anyone give them a hard time, said he continuously invites opposing teams to hang out with him and his friends before the game.
"They are more than welcome to come and have a good time until kickoff ... then they can go straight to hell," he said.
Gall said while he was excited for the home opener, he gets excited for every game.
"It hits that root of the human spirit. Defending your turf and having a common bond with the people you live with," he said.
While Gall definitely did not want Marshall to win, he said he saw the Herd as the type of team WVU was in the past.
"They're trying to become a program, and I wish them all the best," he said. "I'm all about West Virginia. I love that spirit. It takes a certain kind of spirit to thrive in a place where everything is working against you.
"The economy lags in West Virginia. The terrain fights you, the weather fights you and it takes a pioneer spirit to thrive in West Virginia whether you are from Huntington or Morgantown," Gall said.
But, he doesn't want to extend the courtesy too far.
"When they play anyone else, I hope they win. When they play us, you know, we aren't Marshall," he said with a laugh.
Reach staff writer Kathryn Gregory at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.