Herd loses in gut-wrenching fashion
BLACKSBURG, Va. - Weather-wise, it was a lousy day for extra football Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium. Otherwise, it was a triple-overtime thriller.
But Marshall wasn't as thrilled at the end. When Davonte Allen couldn't hold on to Rakeem Cato's fourth-down pass in the third overtime, Virginia Tech skated away with a 29-21 win. Logan Thomas provided the winning margin with a 2-yard run earlier in that extra period.
After getting hammered by the Hokies four times since 2002, the Thundering Herd program missed a chance at an eyebrow-raising upset. The visitors led 21-14 at halftime and most of the second half, until the Hokies tied it with Thomas' 2-yard touchdown pass to Willie Byrn - a pass Byrn caught despite Darryl Roberts' deflection.
That came on fourth down and would have given Marshall the inside road to victory. Perhaps the wet ball worked against Roberts, sliding straight off his hand instead of changing direction.
"If it were dry," said nickel back Corey Tindal. "If. We'll never know that."
The Herd (2-2) somehow lost this game despite:
"I told them I was proud of them, but we came here to win that football game," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "They played their asses off. They did everything we asked them to do since we came to campus and they never quit."
The Herd started poorly, when its punt protection all but waved the camo-clad rushers to punter Tyler Williams. Kyle Fuller blocked the kick and Derek DiNardo scooped up the ball for an easy touchdown.
It took a couple of possessions, but Cato and company answered after Devon Smith's 19-yard punt return started the Herd at its 49. Eight plays later, Cato found Smith for a 12-yard score that tied it.
When Thomas scored the first of his 2-yard touchdowns to give Tech a 14-7 lead, most of the 64,060 poncho-wearing fans couldn't imagine that would be the Hokies' last lead in regulation. But in the second quarter, the Herd took command.
A pair of defensive facemask penalties jump-started the Herd, and Cato loosened up the Tech defense with a 19-yard run. Cato ended the drive with a jarring pass fake pass and 4-yard TD run.
The Herd hit paydirt on its next possession, with Taliaferro reeling off consecutive runs of 19 and 23 yards - almost equaling ECU's game total against the Hokies. After tight end Gator Hoskins skirmished with Tech's Kendall Fuller, Hoskins caught a 13-yard TD catch, getting wide open after rover Kyshoen Jarrett fell.
That came with 9:06 left in the first half, and the Herd defense made that 21-14 lead stick for nearly 36 minutes. There were interceptions by Monterius Lovett and Neville Hewitt on consecutive plays.
And there were two major stops that had the Herd believing.
Late in the second quarter, Tech went on a 16-play, 73-yard drive that included punter A.J. Hughes running 12 yards for a first down after fumbling the snap. Marshall held the Hokies at the 19 and Keyserling hit the left upright from 36 yards.
The sterner stop came in the third quarter, when the Herd gave up pass plays of 23 and 13 yards and faced down a third-and-2 at its 11. After limiting Trey Edmunds to a single yard, the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Thomas tried his trademark QB draw on fourth down - and was met by Jermaine Holmes, James Rouse, Raheem Waiters and lots of other green for a 1-yard loss.
The Herd missed a chance to lead by two scores twice - once by going three-and-out after the Hewitt pick, and then when Cato threw way short for Shuler on the left sideline and was picked off by Kendall Fuller.
After Tech's 14-play, 83-yard drive - finished by that Byrn catch off a deflection - tied the score, Cato was intercepted in the end zone by Jarrett.
But that was the product of a spectacular defensive play. Cato hooked up with Smith for a 47-yard bomb, and then tried the same play to the end zone on third-and-15. It looked like another perfect hookup, as the speedy Smith beat the cornerback.
But Jarrett came out of nowhere, arriving simultaneously with Smith and the ball, which he seized in the resulting collision.
"The safety, [the pass] was so deep I figured he wouldn't get there in time," Cato said. "I took a shot and he made a hell of a play."
As twisted as all that was, the overtimes were downright strange.
Tech had the ball first and went backward on a 9-yard sack. Keyserling was sent out for a 50-yard field goal on an increasingly sloppy field and didn't come close.
Coach Doc Holliday called for three Taliaferro runs up the middle and sent kicker Justin Haig to win it from 39 yards. The kick was blocked.
Marshall suffered a near-disastrous end to its second overtime. As Cato was sacked by J.R. Collins, he coughed up the ball to Tech tackle Derrick Hopkins, and the 311-pounder ran toward the end zone to end the game that way. He came up 15 yards short, as Taliaferro frantically ran him down.
"I was hoping Derrick could rumble, but he kind of ran out of gas at the end," said Bud Foster, Tech's defensive coordinator. "I think anybody but him would've scored."
On Tech's possession, Thomas gained a first down on consecutive 6-yard runs, and then the Hokies centered the field for a Keyserling 32-yard field goal - which missed. On to overtime No. 3.
After Thomas gave Tech its lead, Cato hit Shuler for 10 yards to the 15. He first tried for Shuler in the end zone on second down, but Shuler was impeded - held, he thought - on his route. Collins hurried Cato into a throwaway on third down.
On the last play, Cato had Allen open in the back left corner of the end zone and delivered the ball nicely, but Allen coughed it up when he hit the ground. With that, the Hokies breathed deep sighs of relief.
"It was on target," Cato said. "We run that all the time in practice. We got the matchup we wanted."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.