Marshall football: 'Beamer Ball' bites Herd in loss
BLACKSBURG, Va. - "Beamer Ball" had lost its luster at the beginning of the 2013 college football season.
It's one of Virginia Tech's cornerstones, Hokies Coach Frank Beamer's special-teams philosophy that can shift momentum, change outcomes and win games on its own. Yet "Beamer Ball" had been bombing. Those fortunes flipped Saturday and Marshall University was the unhappy victim.
A pair of big special teams plays, one at the beginning of the game and one at the end, helped seal Virginia Tech's 29-21 triple-overtime win over the Thundering Herd and hand Marshall its second straight loss.
Virginia Tech had been the victim of big special teams plays earlier this season. Alabama returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a season-opening 35-10 loss. Hokies kicker Cody Journell whiffed on a pair of field goals to keep East Carolina in the game, though Virginia Tech eventually won 15-10.
Tech's special teams started off with a bang, though, versus Marshall (2-2). The Herd had made it to midfield on its first drive, but a mistimed snap on third and 12 forced quarterback Rakeem Cato to jump on a fumble for a 12-yard loss. On the ensuing punt, Kyle Fuller sprinted past the protection team and blocked Herd punter Tyler Williams' attempt. Derek DiNardo scooped up the loose ball, ran 11 yards for the score and put Marshall in a 7-0 hole two minutes into the game.
"To get that punt blocked in the beginning of the game is unacceptable," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "It's ridiculous."
It was Tech's first blocked punt against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since blocking one against Boise State in 2010, and the Hokies' first touchdown scored on a blocked punt since 2011 against Appalachian State. It was first Herd punt blocked and returned for a touchdown since Nov. 25, 2006 against Southern Mississippi.
Yet Marshall recovered from that miscue and held a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter, until Tech quarterback Logan Thomas' two-yard pass bounced off Herd corner Darryl Roberts' hands and into Willie Byrn's for the tying touchdown.
Marshall had another chance to win in the first overtime, after it held VT to a 50-yard field goal attempt that fell well short. But Justin Haig's 39-yard attempt on the ensuing possession was blocked, extending the Hokies' life into the third overtime, when Thomas scored both the winning touchdown and two-point conversion.
"We came after them more a little (Saturday)," Beamer said. "I thought we played great on special teams. We got back to the way we want to do things."
Holliday was asked after the game about his strategy before that blocked field goal, to set it up with three straight one-yard runs up the middle. He said deteriorating field conditions in a driving rainstorm led to the decision.
"I thought at that point it was sloppy out there," he said. "I felt he had been consistent from the 25-yard line and we felt that he could put us in a position to win the game and, unfortunately, we couldn't get it done."
Any second-guessing on that call from the outside wasn't echoed by Cato, who had thrown for 228 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Hokies.
"I play quarterback and listen to my coaches," Cato said. "Whatever the coaches are telling me to do, that's what I'm doing."
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THE HERD'S DEFENSE had a big hand Saturday in keeping the game close. The Hokies gained 382 yards against Marshall, the most they've gained on an FBS opponent this season, but the Herd racked up two first-half interceptions from Neville Hewitt and Monterius Lovett, 10 tackles for loss, led by Alex Bazzie's pair, and two sacks. James Rouse and Ra'Shawde Myers combined for one and Gary Thompson added a solo sack.
"It was a physical game, a physical four quarters, and more at the end," defensive lineman James Rouse said. "The defense has improved, but it's still too many (points) at the end of the day. We should have gotten the win and we didn't."
There still were areas for improvement. Virginia Tech gained 201 yards rushing against a Marshall team allowing an average of 67 per game entering Saturday. And while the Hokies converted just two of 16 third downs, they converted three of four fourth downs.
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ESSRAY TALIAFERRO saw his most extensive action of the season against Virginia Tech. He recorded his second career 100-yard game with his 105 yards on a season-high 26 carries. Among the running backs, Remi Watson and Steward Butler each carried the ball just once for a total of minus-4 yards. Cato was Marshall's second leading rusher with 46 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
"The biggest part of that, our decision at running back, had to do more with protection than anything else (Saturday)," Holliday said. "You better be able to stick your nose up in the 'A' gap and block a blitzing backer. Taliaferro does that a little better than the other two young kids."
Kevin Grooms, who carried the ball 15 times for 35 yards against Ohio, was in full pads in Blacksburg but also wore a walking boot on his left leg and did not enter the game.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.