WVU rallies to beat Marshall in OT

Published 1:12 am Saturday, September 11, 2010

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — No. 23 West Virginia rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime and Tyler Bitancurt’s 20-yard field goal in the first extra session lifted the Mountaineers to a 24-21 victory over Marshall on Friday night.

Brian Anderson threw three touchdown passes for Marshall (1-1) and the Thundering Herd appeared to have the outcome in hand after jumping ahead 21-6 early in the fourth.

West Virginia (1-1) twice drove more than 90 yards for a touchdown down the stretch, including Geno Smith’s 5-yard TD toss to Will Johnson with 12 seconds left. Smith then threw to Jock Sanders in the back of the end zone on the 2-point conversion try to send the game into overtime tied at 21-21.

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After Bitancurt’s third field goal of the game, Marshall’s Tyler Warner missed a 39-yard attempt wide right to end it.

West Virginia improved to 10-0 all-time against Marshall. Except for their first meeting in 1911, this one was the closest in the series between the state’s only Bowl Subdivision schools.

Despite being a heavy underdog and getting outscored 141-43 in four games since their series resumed in 2006, there was a sense that Marshall wasn’t going to lie down against its northern neighbor.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday, the Mountaineers’ recruiting coordinator the past two seasons, brought inside knowledge of his former team. Former WVU offensive graduate assistant JaJuan Seider is Marshall’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, while three ex-graduate assistants at WVU have similar roles at Marshall.

West Virginia’s offense was sluggish at times for the second straight week. The Mountaineers got inside Marshall’s 30-yard line four times in the first three quarters but came away with only two field goals.

Bitancurt’s 45-yard attempt was blocked by Johnny Jones late in the third quarter. That gave Jones six blocked field goals for his career, including one at Ohio State last week.

Anderson then drove Marshall 56 yards in seven plays, capping the drive with a 12-yard TD toss to Antavious Wilson on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 21-6 lead.

West Virginia looked as if it would become the latest Big East team to stumble on the road, following in the steps of Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Cincinnati a week earlier.

Marshall had a chance to pad its lead after Smith fumbled at the West Virginia 16, but Marshall’s Tron Martinez fumbled the ball away to the Mountaineers at the 4.

Smith and Noel Devine then went to work.

Devine, who rushed for 112 yards on 23 carries, capped the drive with a 4-yard sweep around left end with 5:12 remaining “”””“‘to cut it to 21-13.

The Mountaineers got the ball back again at their 2-yard line with 3:09 left.

Smith, who completed 32 of 45 passes for 316 yards in his second career start, went 9 of 13 on the drive and kept it going with a 20-yard scrambling run.

Marshall’s Omar Brown was called for pass interference with 35 seconds left, giving West Virginia a first down at the Thundering Herd 2.

After Smith was tackled for a loss by Vinny Curry at the 5, he found Johnson in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown on the next play, then hit a wide-open Sanders for the conversion try.

West Virginia got the ball first in overtime. Smith lost 9 yards on a run on the first play, but things got better from there. A 13-yard pass to Tavon Austin was followed by runs of 7 and 2 yards by Devine to put the ball at the 3, setting up Bitancurt’s go-ahead field goal.

Andre Booker lost 8 yards on Marshall’s first play of overtime and Anderson then threw two straight incompletions. Warner’s field goal try sent a groan through the record stadium crowd of 41,382, while West Virginia’s sideline erupted in jubilation.