Monday, February 20, 2012
Marshall finally gets its long-awaited breakthrough
November 17, 1984
The moment had finally arrived.
Marshall University was only a few minutes from winning a game that would assure the Thundering Herd of its first winning season in 20 years. But it wouldn’t come easy and there would be more than a few sweaty palms by the time the final gun sounded.
The Herd held a 31-28 lead in a road game against Southern Conference rival East Tennessee State University. With two minutes left to play, East Tennessee put together a promising drive that could prove to be the game-winner.
ET running back Jerry Butler caught a swing pass and was headed for a big yardage, when the Herd’s Tony Lellie forced a fumble. The loose ball bounced around for what seemed like an eternity before Marshall cornerback Leon Simms finally recovered near midfield.
Marshall still had to get a first down in order to retain possession and run out the clock. If the Herd failed, the home team Buccaneers would get the ball back and another opportunity to pull off a late-game comeback.
The Herd takes a time out with a minute and twenty-nine seconds left to play. Marshall turned to its ground game to seal the deal. On second-and-long yardage, Randy Clarkson (105 rushing yards on 28 carries) found enough running room for an eight-yard gain to give the Herd a desperately-needed first down.
Marshall ran out the clock to secure its sixth win of the season to finish at 6-5. More importantly, the outcome represented a long-awaited breakthrough. It highlighted the Herd’s first winning season since the mid-‘60s.
This was the game in which Marshall shed its image as a losing program. Entering the ’84 season, the Thundering Herd had the longest active streak of non-winning seasons in college football.
A jubilant crowd of 2,500 fans from Huntington, West Virginia traveled 287 miles to Johnson City, Tennessee with high hopes that they would be eye witnesses to history. On that night, those hopes became reality.