Some Coal Bowl fans hang tough during lightning delays
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It didn't matter if they had driven one hour or six, scores of hardcore West Virginia University fans were determined to wait out a series of thunderstorms that repeatedly stopped the play of Sunday's Coal Bowl.
The game kicked off at 3:30 p.m. and eventually seemed like it would never end. Coaches and team managers started packing up to call it a night after 10 p.m. with some tough, extremely patient fans still on hand.
Heavy rain and lightning first suspended play for just over three hours. Players returned to the field at 8:50 p.m. but another band of storms required stoppage again.
Kent Modlin, 37, said he was "absolutely" staying until the end of the game, no matter how long it took. He snacked on nachos in the concourse area of Milan Puskar Stadium as he wore a poncho he had just purchased in preparation to return to his soaked seat.
"I've come this far, I might as well stay through it," said the Ann Arbor, Mich., resident.
His friend Rob Leviton, from Virginia, knew the benefit of staying put until the clock has run out.
"We've done this a few times," he said, recalling the narrow victory the Mountaineers claimed over Louisville in 2005.
That afternoon, fans poured out of the stadium when it looked as though WVU would have to claim the game as a loss. Three overtimes later, the team won 46-44.
"All our buddies left," Leviton recalled.
And it seemed as though many of the 60,758 fans that filled the stadium Sunday did just that as lightning, then thunder, then torrential rain forced everyone off the field and out of the stands.
Around 8 p.m., some slowly returned to their seats as the teams began warming up. Shortly after, a bolt of lightning sent everyone out again.
With WVU winning 27-13, it might have been even easier for fans to cut their fourth quarter losses and head home for the night. But some were staunchly staying put.
"Absolutely," said Matt Griffin, 30, of Pittsburgh. "I want to see the rest of the game."
Wearing a hat and a black windbreaker, the WVU graduate said he anticipated a rain delay "100 percent," even though he couldn't recall such an event happening in the 10 years he's been regularly attending games at Mountaineer Field.
While most fans poured out of parking lots, safe and dry in their vehicles, others sought refuge in the concourse, or under the shield of the upper deck. Still other, younger fans made the most of the situation, frolicking on soaked hillsides and sliding down them with reckless abandon.
Charleston resident Van Pratt, 53, is considered by his family to be a "superfan."
His son got several tickets to Sunday's game. Once the rain moved in, the family did consider leaving.
"But it wasn't going to happen," Pratt said. "We're going to hang in there as long as we can."
When asked what time he anticipated returning to the Capital City, Pratt looked thoughtfully at his watch.
"Probably closer to midnight," he said.
Despite reports from ESPN that a fan had been struck by lightning in the upper decks of the stadium, no remaining fans reported any injuries during the delays.
Monongalia emergency dispatchers said they had no confirmation of a person struck and had not located a patient.
WVUToday, the campus news service, released a statement via Twitter saying "there had been no reports to authorities of fans injured/affected by lightning."
Following the game, State Police Capt. James Merrill also announced that ESPN's original report was untrue. The story was removed from the network's website Sunday night.
Contact City Editor Lauren McGill at 304-348-5129 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.