"I told the guys before we came out to understand that this was (Marshall's) World War III," said second-year West Virginia head coach Marlon LeBlanc after the game. "They wanted to beat us worse than anything."
For much of the first half, the Thundering Herd showed exactly that. Marshall tried to gain a physical edge by shoving Mountaineer players all over the pitch, a gamplan which many Big East teams unsuccessfully employed last season to counter West Virginia's aggressive offensive attack. With less than ten minutes to go in the first half, it was clear that LeBlanc's team was a step faster than its counterpart from Huntington.
Wright's first goal came on a beautiful cross from senior defender Pat Carroll. While Carroll and Wright will get credit for the play in the scorebook, highly-touted freshman Paul Paradise also had a big hand in the first goal of the game for West Virginia.
"He was certainly the one who made that first goal in the far corner there by beating two guys and squaring it up to (sophomore Gift Maworere), who planted the cross to Pat Carroll," LeBlanc said of Paradise, a 6'1" forward from Pittsburgh. "I thought he had a good showing."
The Mountaineers carried momentum from Wright's goal into the locker room, and took the pitch in the second half with the familiar attacking instinct that made them one of the nation's best offensive teams in the nation last season. Moments into the second period, senior Mike Anoia put home a rebound after a pair of "near misses" by his Mountaineer teammates. Anoia's goal took whatever wind was left right out of Marshall's sails.
"We definitely had a better second half," LeBlanc noted afterward.
The final goal of the evening came on a penalty kick from Wright following a foul in the penalty area by the Marshall goalkeeper. The Liverpool, England native struck a hard line drive to the left post as the Thundering Herd goalie hopelessly dove in the opposite direction.
The exhibition win doesn't mean anything for West Virginia in standings, but mentally may be a bit of a confidence boost for the Mountaineers. This past spring, the Mountaineers were barred from participating in any spring scrimmages as part of the NCAA's probation stemming from incidents under previous head coach Mike Seabolt. Thus, Wednesday's game was the first time the Mountaineers had played someone other than themselves since last November's NCAA Tournament loss to UNC-Greensboro.
"We certainly haven't been out here much," said LeBlanc. "When you don't play games it's tough. Tonight we started off with some rust and started working the rust out in the second half.
"We have a long way to go, and we know that. We scored three goals without (departed All-American) Jarrod Smith, so there are a lot of positives to take from tonight."
A crowd of more than 800 attended, making for a midseason-like atmosphere at Dick Dlesk Stadium. The large turnout indicates that interest and expectations are at an all-time high for the program, something that LeBlanc has embraced with open arms since the end of last season.
"We're nowhere near being ready. I said to the guys before that I don't want to be peaking right now; I want to be peaking in November.
"You know, I didn't think we were all that good today," he said. "It's not a bad starting point for the first game though."
The Mountaineers will be back in action on Saturday night at home against Kentucky. That match is slated to begin at 7:00. LeBlanc and company open the regular season next Friday at Ohio State. That game as well as the September 2 contest against Penn State (LeBlanc's alma mater) will be broadcast on the Big 10 network.