It will be the first game in Huntington since 1915, and only the second ever in the city that has served as the home of the Herd since the then-Marshall Academy opened in 1837, in the series. That game saw the biggest win in WVU football history, the worst loss ever by a Marshall team and a trick play that changed the rules of college football. There was very little question that WVU would win the third game between the schools in a game played on November 6, 1915 on the Marshall campus field. Marshall was 0-5, had been shutout in four games and had been out-scored 127-6 in those games by Denison, Washington and Lee, Marietta (Ohio), Central University (Ky) and Otterbein.
West Virginia, coached by Sol Metzger (Penn ‘04), was 1-1-1, dropping the opener 7-0 at Penn of the Ivy League, then tying Washington and Jefferson 6-6 and beating Geneva 33-0 in Morgantown. The Mountaineers were then "given" a 0-1 loss by forfeiting a game scheduled in the city of Charleston against then-huge rival Washington and Lee. The Generals played the Mountaineers in an annual game in the captial. WVU had beaten Marshall by just two points, 15-17, in Morgantown in 1911, with the Herd led by College Football Hall of Fame member Harry “Cy” Young. Young led MU to a 4-1-1 season in the first year of all “collegiate” opponents, while WVU was 6-3 in 1911. In 1914, Marshall had opened the season in Morgantown with a 0-20 loss on its way to a 5-4 season, same record as the Mountaineers had in their first season under Metzger.
Still, Metzger was so sure his team would win he told the media he would “eat his hat if Marshall scores,” according to former Huntington Advertiser sports editor Fred Burns as recounted in the book, “Marshall University, 1837-1980: An Institution Comes Of Age.” Quite a bit of money was being wagered that Marshall wouldn’t score by Mountaineer supporters, but locals in Huntington caught word that something was up with the Herd and Coach Boyd “Fox” Chambers. Chambers, who played football and baseball at Marshall College at the turn of the century and became the coach for baseball, basketball and football and athletic director in 1908, wasn’t just called “Fox”…he was a very smart, savy coach who helped set up the first intercollegiate league in the state for West Virginia, Marshall and other state colleges. Chambers would later coach the University of Cincinnati and then make his living as an official and sporting goods salesman. Prior to the game with WVU, he let it leak around Huntington he had a special play to prevent the shutout everyone expected.
On game day, WVU jumped out to a quick three touchdown lead. Marshall caught a break when the Mountaineers fumbled on their fourth possession and the Herd hit five straight passes to move the ball down to the 15-yard line. Marshall back Dayton Carter, whom Burns called “a bit of an acrobat,” came into the game. Marshall quarterback Brad Workman, whose brothers were both All-Americans at Ohio State, took the snap and faded back to pass. As all eyes were riveted on the WVU linemen in hot pursuit of Workman, Marshall tackle Okey “Blondie” Taylor and Carter streaked into the end zone. “Runt,” as Carter was known, was hoisted onto the beefy tackle’s shoulders as Workman rifled a high pass in their direction.
Carter caught the ball, looming at least a head-and-one-half-higher than any WVU defender up on Taylor’s shoulders, and tumbled into the end zone for an apparent score. West Virginia fans were outraged and Metzger argued at length with the officials, but the referee and umpire could find no rule to discount the score. Metzger, apparently in retailiation, then preceeded to run what was now a two-touchdown lead out to a final of 92-6 before all was said and done. Huntington betting interests, however, cleaned up nicely on the day from their disgrunted Morgantown compatriots. WVU went onto win the state title by shutting out (30-0) West Virginia Wesleyan (today a Division II team in the WVIAC) and also shut out Virginia Tech (19-0) and Marietta (28-0). Metzger, who had won a national championship at Penn as a coach, went to to further success at Oregon State after just two years at WVU.
Marshall would use the “Tower Play,” as it came to be known, to avoid being shut out at Ohio in a 7-18 loss before winning its only game of the season against Kentucky Wesleyan 61-7. A protest by WVU and Ohio was sent to the “Father of College Football Rules,” Yale’s coach Walter Camp, but he upheld the score, to the glee of Huntingtonians and the Huntington Advertiser newspaper, which ran the answer from Camp in the paper. Camp would, however, change the rules to not allow the play in the 1916 season.
It was the first of three rule changes involving Marshall players.
Rule change number two was when the “Young” Thundering Herd was allowed to use true freshmen for the first time in NCAA history. That led to the youngest starter in the history of the NCAA in 17-year old Charles “Chuck” Henry for MU, who was just elected to the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame this past spring. All schools began using true freshmen, in football in 1972 and other sports later that decade.
The third rule change came soon after Marshall players Randy Moss, (Minnesota Vikinga and Oakland Raiders); Doug Chapman, formerly with the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers; and Ricky Hall, an Arena Football League veteran with the Tampa Bay Storm, all wore “Cat In The Hat” black-and-white striped socks for the NCAA I-AA four playoff games in 1996. MU won the National Championship with a perfect 15-0 season and the NCAA changed the rules to make all player socks be matching the next season.
Adding to the game's history for this year: WVU has advanced to the “Sweet 16” in consecutive NCAA Basketball Tournaments, yet has lost back-to-back games to the Thundering Herd in the annual basketball game played in Charleston; a student graduate assistant from WVU was found taking notes at a Marshall spring football practice this year, having driven down from Morgantown in a automobile assigned to the Mountaineer athletic program from a Parkersburg, W.Va. car dealer; and finally, a “thanks, but no thanks” attitude of West Virginia towards moving the game to a national television audience on Sunday, September 3rd, making an ESPN double-header with Kentucky-Louisville that day that will now feature MU C-USA rival Memphis and Ole Miss, much to the consternation of Herd fans and Governor Manchin.
West Virginia versus Marshall: a seldom played rivalry, with lots of history!