Crystal Ball Series - Game Five

The much awaited game five of our Crystal Ball Series - a fantasy look ahead at the 2004 football season.

BLACKSBURG, VA. – Twice overcoming 13-point first half deficits and unleashing a staunch second half defense, 7th-ranked West Virginia rallied to defeat 25th-ranked Virginia Tech 37-23 in front of 64,431 fans and a national ESPN2 audience at Lane Stadium Saturday evening. WVU senior quarterback Rasheed Marshall hurled four touchdown passes – two to stellar wideout Chris Henry for a second consecutive week – and the Mountaineers' defense limited the Hokies' offense to just 120 second half yards as West Virginia ran its unbeaten record to 5-0 before entering Big East conference play.

Overall, Marshall was 20 of 34 for 254 yards, and suffered just one interception against his four scoring strikes while skillfully directing the Mountaineer offense. Kay Jay Harris wnet over the century mark, gaining 108 on 25 carries, to maintain his Big East rushing lead.

Marshall's touchdown passes to Henry – the nation's sixth-leading and the Big East's leading receiver – covered 31 and 11 yards, respectively, both in the first half. The big play of the game, however, was Marshall's second half 39-yard touchdown pass to transfer Eddie Jackson that gave the Mountaineers a double-digit lead with 4:25 remaining in the game.

A late Pac Man Jones interception of a Bryan Randall pass sealed the Mountaineers' win – their third straight triumph against their former Big East brethren and second consecutive victory in Lane Stadium.

"We started a little slow with the rash of penalties and the blocked punt, but we kept our focus and got things going our way, especially in the second half. I thought we kept our composure in a real hostile place when we got behind [in the first half], which was good to see. We have good senior leadership and that helped us keep our heads on straight when things weren't going our way," said WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez in the locker room after the game. "I liked our intensity, especially in the second half. We seemed to turn it up a few notches after halftime."

Tech head coach Frank Beamer had plenty of praise for West Virginia, in general, and Marshall, in particular, after the game.

"West Virginia's a bona fide Top 10 team, no question about it. They're strong in all phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams – there's no real weakness anywhere with them. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them in a BCS bowl, maybe the title game."

Regarding Marshall, Beamer said, "He's [Marshall] a great player. His teammates really respect him and we knew we'd have to shut him down to be able to win the game. He can beat you with his legs or his arm and it was mostly with his arm tonight. I thought we kept him in check running the ball, but with a dual threat quarterback you have to do a lot of things right to completely shut him down and we didn't get enough pressure on him to affect his throwing. That hurt us a lot."

Virginia Tech took the opening kick-off and drove from their own 27 to the WVU 10. The big play in the drive was a 20-yard Bryan Randall-to-Chris Clifton completion to the WVU 16. At that point, the Mountaineer defense stood its ground to prevent the touchdown and Tech settled for a Brandon Pace 27-yard field goal and the early lead at 3-0.

WVU's initial offensive possession stalled near midfield and Eric Daugherty dropped back to punt. "Beamer Ball" then made its presence felt as Tech's James Griffin came around the outside edge and blocked Daugherty's kick, which was recovered by the Hokies' Brandon Manning at the WVU 22. Five plays later Tech tailback Cedric Humes found the end zone from a yard out and Tech had a 10-0 lead halfway through the opening quarter.

West Virginia's sluggish offense again stalled with a three-and-out and the Hokies, starting at their own 29, mounted a 10-play drive that fizzled at the Mountaineer 28. Pace came on to boot a 45-yard field goal and the Hokies took a surprising 13-0 lead over the favored Mountaineers.

"We told the kids to keep their poise and stick to the game plan," said WVU quarterbacks coach and special teams coordinator Bill Stewart, describing the atmosphere on the WVU sideline at that point in the game. "There was no panic, but we knew we had to get things going . . . and we did."

Responding to the deficit, the Mountaineer offense finally got rolling. In eight plays, WVU moved from its own 31 to the Hokies' 31. On the ninth play of the drive, Marshall lobbed a pass over the heads of two Tech defenders glued to Henry and the 6-4 Mountaineer receiver jumped up to snare Marshall's first touchdown pass of the night in the middle of the Hokies' end zone. The ensuing extra point cut the deficit to 13-7, and appeared to swing the momentum in favor of WVU.

However, after a change of possessions, the Hokies again extended the lead to 13, as Mike Imoh ripped off a 39-yard jaunt down the Tech sideline on second down to the WVU 19. Then, after a Randall scramble for 12 yards, the senior Tech quarterback fired a pass that tight end Jeff King caught at the two-yard line and muscled his way across the goal line for Tech's second and final touchdown of the evening. The ensuing extra point re-established Tech's 13-point margin at 20-7.

West Virginia again answered the call by marching 72 yards in 15 plays for their second touchdown. Highlights of the drive included Marshall pass completions of 14 yards to Dee Alston and nine yards to Miquelle Henderson, along with a Harris run covering 12 yards. On 3rd and 9 from the 11-yard line, Marshall again found his favorite target, Henry, in the end zone. The extra point pulled WVU to within 6 at 20-14 with 5:16 remaining in the first half.

The Mountaineers had one more chance to score just before halftime, but a Marshall pass intended for Henry was picked off by Tech's Vince Fuller at the Hokies' 6-yard line, and Tech ran out the clock, taking a 20-14 lead into the locker room.

For the first half, Marshall was 11 of 22 for 124 yards and two touchdowns, plus the one late interception. Harris rushed 10 times for 53 yards and Henry had 2 receptions for 42 yards – both of them touchdowns. For the Hokies, Randall was 8 of 14 for 88 yards and one touchdown in a first half that was statistically close, but whose tempo was primarily controlled by Virginia Tech.

"We thought we had given them a lot of chances in the first half and they had capitalized on them," said Rodriguez, regarding his thoughts at the halfway point of the game. "We told the team to quit beating ourselves and start beating the other guys. They [WVU] got the message."

"Other than a few big plays, we held them reasonably well in the first half," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel of the WVU defense's first half performance. "We saw a few things to adjust and we made those adjustments [at halftime]. The guys really turned up the heat in the second half and we could feel the game coming back to us."

WVU took the second half kick-off and immediately established momentum on its side. Eddie Jackson took Pace's kick-off at the 4 and followed his blockers up the Mountaineer sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the WVU 46 – a 42-yard return that immediately infused life into the WVU sideline. Five carries by workhorse tailback Harris and a 16-yard Marshall-to-Henry completion highlighted a nine-play drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown blast over center by Mountaineer fullback Hikee Johnson. The rare carry by the fullback gave WVU its first lead at 21-20 with 11:28 to go in the third stanza.

On the following Tech possession, Jahmile Addae intercepted a Randall pass intended for sophomore flanker David Clowney at the WVU 30, but the Mountaineers failed to capitalize, and the two teams traded scoreless possessions throughout most of the third quarter.

With 2:04 left in the third period, WVU began its fourth touchdown drive of the night, as Marshall completed passes of 10 yards to Henderson and 23 to Henry as part of an 11-play drive that ended with a four-yard Marshall toss to tight end Josh Bailey for a 27-20 lead. However, the extra point was blocked and the Hokies remained within a touchdown.

Tech then mounted its last scoring drive of the evening. A 14-play drive featuring three successful third-down conversions took Tech from their own 19 to the WVU 33, where the Mountaineer prevent unit stiffened. Pace came on to boot a 50-yard field goal that drew Tech to within 4 at 27-23 with still 8:02 remaining in the game.

After receiving the kick-off, from its own 24, Marshall directed the Mountaineers on the critical drive of the evening. Three straight Harris runs totaling 11 yards were followed by a Milo Austin reception for 13 and a Henderson reception, also for 13 yards, that were sandwiched around a sack of Marshall.

After two more short runs, seeing the Tech corners drawing in tight to the line of scrimmage, Marshall found a streaking Eddie Jackson down the middle of the field and the 39-yard catch-and-run to paydirt gave WVU a 34-23 lead with 4:25 remaining in the game.

"We saw them [Tech's cornerbacks] coming up to the line. We thought we could sneak someone past them, so we checked off and we guessed right," said Mountaineers receivers coach Steve Bird. "Eddie ran a great route and Rasheed put it right where it needed to be," beamed a delighted Bird after the game.

Tech's comeback hopes were ended with 2:39 remaining when Randall's long pass intended for Clifton was intercepted by WVU's Pac Man Jones. Jones returned the interception from the Mountaineer 29 to the Tech 11-yard line – a 58-yard return. The Mountaineers then played it safe, and added a late Cooper field goal from 23 yards out with 1:20 remaining to erase any lingering doubts about the outcome.

WVU finished with 417 yards of total offense – 163 rushing and 254 passing – compared to 330 for the Hokies. In the second half, West Virginia limited Randall to just 7 completions in 19 attempts, along with two interceptions. The home standing Techsters were held to just 53 second half rushing yards as well. Time of possession in the game, though, was nearly equal, with only a nine second differential.

Rodriguez praised Tech's effort after the game. "You know a Frank Beamer-coached team won't give up, and their kids fought us hard every step of the way. Anytime you can come out of Blacksburg with a win you take it. These [WVU versus Virginia Tech] have always been hard fought games that both fan bases really enjoy. Its just a shame this series won't continue after next year."

"I thought Rasheed was just terrific the way he kept his composure and took good care of the ball," continued Rodriguez when asked about his three-year starter. "He's a smart player that seldom makes bad decisions." Asked about another highlight reel game from Henry, Rodriguez said, "He's just a great player that's getting better all the time. He still hasn't reached his potential yet; when he does, look out."

Offensive line coach Rick Trickett had good words to say about the WVU offensive line's play. "Our guys gave a great effort out there tonight. Just one sack of Rasheed – and that's one too many – but really a good night of work from our guys."

"Our defense did a solid job tonight, especially in the second half. You limit a team like Virginia Tech to what we gave them in the second half and you can be real proud of that performance, " noted Casteel after the game. "But, its just one game and we take ‘em all one game at a time. I know that's cliché as cliché gets, but it's the way we approach things."

West Virginia now opens its Big East slate with a weeknight encounter with the Connecticut Huskies on Wednesday evening, October 13th, at sold out Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

"We're expecting a great effort from UConn," said Rodriguez of the Mountaineers' next opponent. "This is their first game with an exclusive national TV audience and their team and their fans will be fired up for us – that's for sure. They have a great senior quarterback in Dan Orlovsky, a great linebacker in Maurice Lloyd and they're a solid team from top to bottom. Coach Edsall has done a great job with their program. We're delighted to have them in the Big East and look forward to the challenge of our first game up there."

Kick-off in East Hartford is at 7:30 P.M.

Drive charts and game stats

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only.

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