HUNTINGTON, W.Va.- Sophomore Anthony Virgara netted the tying goal for Marshall on Saturday night as the Herd battled back from a goal down to tie Conference USA opponent SMU 1-1 in front of a record-breaking crowd at Sam Hood Field.
The action began as early as the seventh minute, when SMU’s Arthur Ivo caught everyone – including goalkeeper Daniel Withrow – by surprise with a free kick from 36-yards out that looped over Withrow’s head and into the Herd net for a 1-0 SMU lead.
After a scrappy remainder of the first half that saw three players earn yellow cards and both teams take just a meager six shots, the action intensified almost immediately after the second half began.
Following an SMU corner kick, the Herd’s senior captain Jordan Hilgefort found himself in space with the ball on the right side. His well-placed pass found the sprinting feet of Anthony Virgara, who streaked down the sidline on the counterattack. After outrunning the Mustang defense, Virgara calmly slotted the ball beneath the body of goalkeeper Jaime Ibarra to knot the game up at 1-1.
Virgara’s goal was his third of the season – and third in C-USA play – and it sent the crowd of 1173 – a Sam Hood Field record – into a frenzy. As the time continued to tick, chances came and went for both sides, with the goalkeepers and their defenses ensuring that the scores remained level. Marshall’s Fayanga Keita, in particular drew cheers from the crowd with several crunching tackles to thwart a Mustang offense that looked lively until the final whistle.
That final whistle, though, did not come until the teams had played two ten-minute overtimes to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Mustang forward Juan Castillo had a chance to win the game for SMU in the dying seconds, but his shot was stuffed by Withrow’s seventh save of the game. Both teams moved to 6-4-1 records on the year following the tie.
Although the Herd did not collect all three points from the win, the tie means it is still undefeated in C-USA play this year at 3-0-1, with just four matches left to play in the regular season. Marshall now has 10 points in the conference standings, meaning the team has already equaled last year’s total at what is just the halfway point of its C-USA regular season.
“If somebody would have told me a couple weeks ago that after playing against such quality teams as FIU, Memphis, Kentucky, and SMU, we’d be 3-0-1, I’d have said ‘I’ll take that,’” said Head Coach Bob Gray after the game. “And while you always want to win, I am happy with the way our team battled back from behind tonight so that we could walk away with a point towards our conference total. Now it’s time to focus on Shawnee State and a big conference game against South Carolina on the road a week from tonight.”
Indeed, the Herd will now prepare for its final non-conference game of the regular season against Shawnee State at 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday at Sam Hood Field., before beginning its second half of C-USA league play away to South Carolina on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.