Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marshall's 12th Man alive and well in Florida

       The fat lady didn’t have to sing. Marshall’s 12th Man took care of that.
       Marshall’s Thundering Herd—the break-even bowl entry with a 6-6 record at the end of regular season—thundered at the right moments and zapped heavily-favored Florida International 20-10 in the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl on Tuesday night.
       For the uninitiated, Marshall’s 12th Man is an unseen, yet undeniable force that seems to inspire the Herd to climb to higher heights. On so many occasions in the past, the mere presence of this behind-the-scenes phenomenon has spurred Marshall's team to win games that most of the so-called pundits declared they have no business winning.
       The 12th Man has always been a fixture at MU’s home field in Huntington, West Virginia —Joan Edwards Stadium. For this week, this unseen presence traveled south to St. Petersburg, Florida and took up temporary residence at Tropicana Field, the bowl site. Looking back on the sequence of events that determined the final outcome, who’s to say that the 12th Man didn’t exert significant influence on Marshall’s victory?
       For three quarters, it looked like neither team would ever assert itself and take control. But things changed in the final quarter of this nationally televised game on ESPN. Here’s the recap:
  • With game tied at 10, Zach Dunston blocked an FIU punt which led to Tyler Warner’s 39-yard field and the Herd went up 13-10.
  • Florida International responded with what appeared to be a promising drive. T.Y. Hilton, the Panthers’ ultimate break-away threat, caught a short pass and ran 22 yards. But before the play was finished, MU defensive back Omar Brown stripped him of the ball and the Herd regained possession. End of scoring threat for International.
  • With less than 40 seconds left to play, the Panthers defense stiffened and Marshall, clinging to a three-point lead, faced a fourth-and-five from International’s 35-yard line. If the Herd failed to move the chains or convert a long field, FIU gets the ball back with a last-gasp opportunity to win it at the end. That’s what happened a year ago when the Panthers pulled off a hook-and-ladder pass play that set up the game-winning field goal in a 34-32 comeback win over Toledo in the Little Caesar’s Bowl. Didn’t happen this time. Quarterback Rakeem Cato faked a handoff, calmly sidestepped the pass rush, and fired a 35-yard touchdown pass to game MVP Aaron Dobson (seven catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns).
        All the statistical evidence pointed to a Florida International victory. The ESPN crew even talked about how the Panthers had the best record of all the other major colleges in the state of Florida (actually they were tied with Florida State at 8-4 before the bowl game).
      But—as I’ve said before, strength of schedule cannot be overlooked or underestimated. In this case it played out favorably for a Thundering Herd team that wasn’t supposed to be up to the task.
       The 12th Man comes through again ….. Ya’ Herrrrr-dddd!

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