COMMENTARY – Fans had not even reached the postgame tailgates after Marshall’s 26-21 win over 8th-ranked Notre Dame and the debate was already raging. Was the game they had just witnessed, the biggest win in program history?
Obviously, the answer is “no.”
That is and will forever be the 15-13 win over Xavier in 1971. However, the question of which victory is number two on that list will spark fun and heated debates amongst Herd fans for years to come.
Is Saturday’s win bigger than the 13-10 victory over Clemson in 1999? What about Willy Merrick’s field goal to beat Youngstown State for the National Championship in 1992? Kansas State was ranked 6th in the country when Marshall upset the Wildcats 27-20 in Manhattan and the highest-ranked opponent Marshall has ever defeated.
It is easy to decree Saturday’s win as the biggest in program history while still basking in the euphoria of the win but it may take weeks or even years to put the achievement into context. Milestone victories take on more meaning and importance when they come during memorable seasons.
Clemson was not ranked in the top 25 when Marshall beat the Tigers in 1999. But that victory is tattooed in the memories of Herd fans because it was the first in an undefeated season by one of Marshall’s greatest teams.
The story of Willy Merrick’s game-winning field goal in the 1992 national championship game reads more like a Hollywood script than a historical account. Nevertheless, it happened. His first collegiate field goal attempt split the uprights to win the 1-AA national championship. That win was the culmination of 21 years of struggling and rebuilding following the 1970 plane crash.
Then there’s the odd case of the upset in the Little Apple 2003. Marshall was 1-2 and coming off a 24-17 loss to Toledo. The Herd caught magic that day as Franklin Wallace rushed for 117 yards and Graham Gochneaur threw for two touchdowns. Marshall squashed Kansas State’s hopes of competing for a national title.
The victory, though, eventually lost some of its lusters as Marshall went on to finish the year with an 8-4 record. For the first time since rejoining the Mid-American Conference in 1997, the Herd did not reach the conference title game nor did it play in a bowl game. Overall, it was a forgettable season.
Marshall’s win over Notre Dame will be talked about by fans for years to come and when the stories are told there will be many more Marshall fans who will claim to have been in South Bend on Sept. 10, 2022, than the 5,000 or so who were actually in attendance.
Ranking the win among the greatest of all-time at Marshall will have to wait. Saturday’s win can be a springboard to the memorable season and serve as the 2022 Herd’s official introduction rest of the country.
Or it could end up being a fond memory in an otherwise ho-hum year.
Only time will tell.