In fact, Willy Merrick had never kicked in a college football game before the NCAA Division I-AA championship game on Dec. 19, 1992.
But here he was with seven seconds remaining in a game tied at 28, lining up for a 22-yard field goal.
Merrick had gone to Marshall as a soccer player and walked on to the football team. He never played but before the game, his younger brother David, the team’s starting kicker, was suspended by head coach Jim Donnan for missing a practice.
That’s why Willy is remembered for The Kick instead of his brother. He made the field goal that gave the Thundering Herd a 31-28 victory over Youngstown State and the first NCAA championship in school history.
“I don’t talk about it much,” Merrick told the Huntington Quarterly nearly a decade later. “It’s fun to remember it. It’s something you never forget, the feeling, the emotion, all the fans. Yeah, I think about it sometimes.”
It’s the sports moment judged the greatest in Marshall history for what it meant to the university 22 years after The Crash.
The Kick made Marshall football whole again.
The 1992 national championship game was the most emotional game for Marshall since 1971’s last-second victory over Xavier. That was Marshall’s second game after 37 members of the football team perished in the Southern Airways Flight 932 crash on Nov. 14, 1970.
It was the worst sports-related air tragedy in U.S. history. “The great tragedy,” President Nixon said at the time.
Marshall’s great triumph came a year after losing to Youngstown State in the national championship game. The Penguins trailed by 11 points and came back to win.
In the 1992 game, Youngstown State trailed by 28 before rallying to tie on Tamron Smith’s 10-yard touchdown run with 2: 28 remaining.
But quarterback Michael Payton, the I-AA player of the year, marched the Herd from its 19 to Youngstown State’s 5 by completing 7 of 9 passes for 60 yards, including receptions by Mike Bartrum and Troy Brown. (Brown intercepted a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds to seal the win.)
“I never even thought about it coming down to a field goal,” said Merrick, who made all four of his extra-point attempts in the game. “My teammates told me it was going to come down to me and I said, ‘Really?’ I had no idea.”
Jim Nantz, who called the game for CBS, listed the game No. 11 in his Top 25 Moments in 25 Years at CBS Sports.
Contributing: Doug Chapman
On the cover: Michael Payton (14) and Mike Bartrum (19) roll out during the 1992 NCAA Division I-AA championship against Youngstown State. (Courtesy Marshall University Archives)
Middle: YouTube video courtesy of Marshall Athletics
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• Monday: Maine and Marshall
• Tuesday: Massachusetts and Massachusetts Lowell
• Wednesday: McNeese and Memphis
• Thursday: Mercer and Merrimack
• Friday: Miami (Ohio) and Michigan Tech