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Holliday: I Had No Choice

ADs decided to end the contest

September 5, 2011
BY JIM BUTTA , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - It wasn't the ending either team expected, or wanted, but Sunday's sixth Friends of Coal Bowl was called with 14:36 remaining in the game when a series of strong thunderstorms resulted in a pair of lengthy delays - the final one ending the contest with WVU leading by 21, 34-13.

''I had no choice,'' Marshall coach John ''Doc'' Holliday said. ''It was a decision made by conference offices and both schools' Directors of Athletics.''

A message echoed by Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick.

''Let me set the message straight,'' Hamrick said. ''(Oliver) Luck and I consulted with our conference officers as well as our team trainers and it was decided to not finish the game.''

The abrupt end kept the Mountaineers record in the series, which began in 1911, clean as WVU is now 11-0 with the final contest of the present contract slated for Milan Puskar Stadium next September.

''We're disappointed,'' Holliday said. ''We wanted to play. But, we have a conference game in six days.''

Lightening struck the Thundering Herd from Marshall University for the second year in a row, but this time it belonged to Mother Nature.

Tyler Warner's second field goal of the game pulled the Herd back to within seven, 20-13, with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, WVU's Tavon Austin returned the boot 100 yards for a touchdown and Tyler Bitancurt's third PAT of the game increased the Mountaineers lead to 27-13 with 4:59 showing on the clock.

Then lightening struck and for the next three hours coaches, players and fans waited while the inclement weather that had been forecasted to hit the region chased much of the 60,000 fans home.

When play finally resumed Marshall's offense, which had put together a 12-play, 47-yard drive to pull within seven before the delay, went three-and-out and its defense was unable to get off the field as West Virginia put together an 11-play, 54-yard drive to up the margin to 21, 34-13, after a Vernard Roberts 1-yard plunge and Bitancurt PAT with 14:36 left in the game.

Then, lightening hit again - the real kind - and sent both teams back to the locker rooms and the fans, that had remained through the first delay, back into the concourse.

Marshall, which came into the game as a 21-point underdog, came out firing on its first possession as freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato connected with Antavious Wilson on a 25-yard pass to give the Herd a first-and-10 at the WVU 38.

A 6-yard run by Tron Martinez put the visitors in good position with a second-and-4 at the WVU 32, but a bad snap resulted in an eight-yard loss on the next play and Cato's 10-yard run put the visitors in a fourth-and-2 at the Mountaineers' 30.

Holliday, a former-Mountaineer player and assistant coach, elected to forego the field goal, but Cato's pass attempt to Eric Frohnapfel sailed way over the receiver's head and gave the ball to the Mountaineers.

The defense rose to the occasion on WVU's first possession, holding their hosts to a mere two yards as Geno Smith completed 2-of-3 attempts.

Forced to pun from their own 32, West Virginia punter Corey Smith sent a boot sailing 55-yards to Marshall's Andre Booker, who hauled the ball in at his own 13 and then proceeded to break down the right sidelines and traveled 87-yards untouched for the game's first score with 10:18 remaining in the first quarter of play.

Warner connected on the point after and, just like a year ago, Marshall jumped out to a quick lead.

West Virginia answered with a 9-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard Bitancurt field goal and then took the lead for good seven minutes later when Smith found sophomore Ivan McCartney open in the back of the end zone to conclude a 10-play, 62-yard drive that began at the WVU 38.

The margin increased to 20-7 before a 24-yard field goal by Warner on the last play of the first half sliced the deficit in half, 20-10, after the game's first 30 minutes.

Warner, who missed a field goal in WVU's 24-21 overtime win a year ago, connected on a 21-yarder to pull the visitors to within seven, 20-13, with 5:14 left in the third quarter. But, those would be the final points scored by the Herd.

West Virginia countered that score with a 100-yard kickoff return by Tavon Austin on the ensuing kick and a 1-yard Vernard Roberts run and a Bitancurt PAT on the final plays of the game.