MORGANTOWN — People were crammed into every available space at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium Wednesday night. Whether they were hanging over the fence on the corner of the field, peaking around a corner or jammed in behind press row, people were doing whatever they could to get a glimpse of the game between No. 5 West Virginia and No. 1 Marshall.
The game, which officially sold out three weeks in advance, more than lived up to its massive billing as the Mountaineers won an exciting back-and-forth contest 5-2 behind a dominant second-half effort, and a stadium record 3,147 people were there to see it live.
“I have to give a huge compliment to tickets, to facilities, to everyone in that department,” WVU head coach Dan Stratford said. “We’ve had multiple meetings that we’ve never had to have before to make this an incredible atmosphere and get as many people in here as we possibly squeeze. Hopefully, they come back, hopefully, we have to keep those bleachers there now.”
The two additional sets of temporary bleachers on either side of the stands weren’t even enough to account for all the people who wanted to be there as students began lining up to get into the stadium nearly two hours before kickoff.
“You’d like to think it’s not just a lasting memory for my players and my staff, but for those who were here as well,” Stratford said. “My biggest hope today is that those bleachers stay right where they are and they’re packed again the next time we’re out here.”
The crowd wasn’t just large, it was passionate as well. There was a brief moment of silence when Marshall went up 1-0 five minutes into the game, but the collection of individuals roared back to life as the Mountaineers scored three unanswered goals in the span of two minutes to pull ahead.
West Virginia sophomore Marcus Caldeira, who scored two of the goals in that flurry and added a third in the second half to complete the hat trick, said he had only ever experienced a crowd like Wednesday’s one other time.
“I have once back home at Nova Scotia but these fans were just insane,” said the native of Canada. “When I was in Nova Scotia they were against me, so it’s good when you have a crowd with you.”
Stratford said the only crowds he could compare it to were the team’s match against Pitt in 2021, the first game after COVID when fans were allowed back into the stadium, and the games WVU has played the last two years against the Herd in Huntington.
“It takes two to tango, we don’t have this occasion, this event if we’re not playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Stratford said. “It draws both ways. It’s fantastic, it takes them to be as good as they are and it takes us to be right up there too for us to have this type of attendance and crowd.”
The crowd in Morgantown made Marshall coach Chris Grassie want to see an even bigger one next year in Huntington.
“The crowd was great, it’s a great testament to what this game means,” Grassie said. “It’ll be on us next year to have a bigger crowd and a better environment. The people of Huntington and Herd Nation will take that challenge.”
WVU and Marshall could potentially meet again this season in the Sun Belt conference tournament. If not, they will play in Huntington next season. Stratford said Wednesday proved his team can play against any opponent in any environment
“We’re going to have to go back there next year,” Stratford said, “and I‘m sure they’ll want their blood and they’ll want the chance to create the most raucous and rowdy environment they can.”
WVU has just one more regular season home game this year, Oct. 31 against Old Dominion.