Home Field Advantage & The Turning Point


Much has been made -- and dismissed -- regarding the home field advantage in sports.

At its best, it can be a disruptive and energizing force for the home team, the proverbial "12th Man" throwing in with the 11 on the field, providing an intangible yet palpable lift.

At its worst, well, there's the sitting on the hands, despondent sighs, forehead slaps, boos and early retreats for the exits. It becomes less a drain on the team as its reflection, a non-factor.

Watching from the south end zone of Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown Saturday afternoon, I was probably like the rest of the West Virginia faithful -- hopeful, but not expecting much after a beatdown by Maryland last weekend and the prospect of another one by No. 11 Oklahoma State, 20-point favorites as visitors.

The weather was beautiful and perfect for a ball game and the stadium was a sea of gold. (We actually looked good in our all-gold unis. Up for debate, I know, but I love the new look as much as I hated the old "Gold Rush" uniforms; maybe the gold helmets complete the ensemble.)

As the game progressed and it became apparent that this team was hanging with the visiting Cowboys, a supportive crowd became an engaged crowd. We cautiously began to believe.

After OSU took a chunk out of our 10-point halftime lead to make it 24-21 in the third quarter, and both teams began trading punts, there was a sense of air leaking out of the balloon.

Sure, our defense was doing a masterful job of keeping the presumptive Big 12 favorites out of the end zone, but it felt like every time WVU's kicking teams appeared, we were squandering opportunities against a squad that could blow up at any minute.

Anxiety was setting in. And as the third quarter ended and the fourth began, the Cowboys began what felt like their move.

Three plays after the long return of a Nick O'Toole punt, Oklahoma State was inside West Virginia's 10. Things were getting tense.

And then a Mountaineer went down.

As the trainers tended the injured player in the resulting hush of the stadium, a chant of "Let's Go Cowboys" arose from the visitors' section near the south end zone.

Surely it was innocent, if ill-advised timing to fill a quiet moment on the field, and hopefully not taunting. But the gold-clad masses took it personally and rained an aggrieved torrent of boos at the slice of orange in the stands.

When play resumed, an already rowdy crowd seemed to take it upon themselves to ensure that any communications for the visitors would be drowned out in a sea of white noise. The Pokes had kicked a hornet's nest.

Two plays failed to reach the end zone and, with each rebuff, the crowd took the roar to its next level, until finally, OSU's kicker took a bad angle and bounced his field goal attempt off the upright.

We had announced our presence with authority.

The crowd had gone all in and was firmly invested. The electricity in the stands traveled to the field. The gold sidelines were jumping and Milan Puskar had become the House of Pain.

While we couldn't make a block or catch a pass on offense, we were sure as hell going to give our hard-working defense a wall of sound to sow further confusion and disorientation into our opponent's minds and maybe get the chance we needed to put the game out of reach.

For the next ten minutes, a steady roar alternated with energized stillness as possessions were exchanged. Then field goal, interception and field goal. Roar. Roar. Roar.

Victory formation was executed to the thunder of triumph and an exhale of relief.

Our investment had paid off. The strains of "Country Roads" never sounded so sweet.

After what's felt like years of wandering in uncertainty, for at least one golden afternoon this season, doubts were dispelled and hopes were rekindled as a crowd tied into a team to make its home field atmosphere truly advantageous.

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