Virginia Tech football fans walked into Lane Stadium expecting a nice, normal win against Conference USA’s Marshall.
Instead, they got a topsy-turvy triple overtime contest that was largely played in driving rain and somehow ended in a 29-21 Hokies win.
“When kids hang in there together and find a way to get it done, that builds chemistry and trust and it makes you a better football team,” said head coach Frank Beamer.
The Thundering Herd may have been a lightly regarded team by many heading into this game, but they tested the Hokies early and often on offense.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato sliced and diced Tech’s stout defense for 307 total yards, as the team gave up a season high in yardage.
“There haven’t been too many teams that come here that pitch and catch like that,” Beamer said. “They’re really good on offense and they have good, tough running backs.”
Cato’s offensive ability, both through the air and on the ground, gave the Herd a 21-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.
With nine minutes left in the fourth, the offense was faced with the daunting prospect of scoring for the first time since the first quarter.
But a 43-yard run by running back Trey Edmunds ignited things quickly, and then the football gods smiled on the Hokies.
Logan Thomas was able to convert a fourth down and nine, and then tossed a game-tying touchdown to Willie Byrn on a ball tipped by Marshall.
“Finally one went my way,” Thomas said afterward. “Normally it seems like those tipped balls go the other way, but I’m thankful. Obviously we really needed it. It was great concentration by Willie.”
Yet, for all the excitement, the game was far from over.
Cato very nearly tossed a deep touchdown to win the game for the Herd, but Kyshoen Jarrett made a huge interception on the goal line to keep the score tied.
“I just wanted to make sure I had a good read on Cato,” Jarrett said. “He didn’t really look me off, he was just looking at me, turned his shoulders, lobbed it, and I just went. I didn’t really care about the wide receiver.”
Neither team could put any points on the board in the closing minutes, so the game headed to overtime; that’s where things got really crazy.
The Hokies got the ball to start the first overtime, but had to settle for a 50-yard field goal try.
Fifty yards is a demanding distance for any kicker, but it wasn’t veteran Cody Journell in the game for Tech.
Instead, it was redshirt junior Ethan Keyserling in the game for the team after Journell was suspended Saturday morning for violating team rules.
Predictably, the inexperienced walk-on missed and gave the Herd a chance to end things.
“(Missing Journell) just makes us focus in a little bit more,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to do our job, you don’t want to put anybody in a tough situation, even though we did today.”
Marshall moved the ball just three yards to Tech’s 22-yard line, setting up a 39-yard field goal.
But then the driving rain and Tech’s special teams ensured that the kick was easily blocked by defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins to end the threat.
Hopkins wasn’t done yet, however, as he made another big play on Marshall’s next possession.
J.R. Collins stripped the ball from Cato and Hopkins picked up and nearly ended the game on a defensive touchdown before he was tackled on the 19-yard line.
“I was hoping Derrick could rumble, but he kind of ran out of gas at the end,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I think anyone else but him would’ve scored.”
Yet once again, Keyserling’s shortcomings and the offense’s ineptitude prolonged the game, as the kicker missed a 32-yard try.