No one had ever seen anything quite like this one.
The University of Michigan began its 132ndseason of varsity college football on Saturday in Ann Arbor and their scheduled game was called off after a little less than three full quarters.
The game was declared over and Michigan was awarded a 34-10 win over Western Michigan University. A torrential downpour and a series of lightning strikes in the immediate area (within six miles of the stadium) had made the area “unsafe” for players and spectators (even the press had to abandon the press box), according to officials.
The game was officially called over after a meeting between Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard.
“We consulted with the coaches and the facilities manager and just about every weather expert we could find in the area,” said Brandon.
According to NCAA rules, which are vague, the athletic directors had four possible options, including waiting out the storm, calling the game “no contest” and starting it over at another date and time or calling It a forfeit.
“We thought the game was in hand,” said Brandon, meaning Michigan’s big lead looked safe.
It was an odd site. The Big House, which minutes earlier had 110,506 in attendance was empty when Michigan was declared a winner. The game was first stopped at 13:59 of the third quarter and Michigan leading, 20-10, at 5:23 local time. It then resumed at 5:50 and Michigan scored two touchdowns to jump to a 34-10 advantage.
The game was stopped a final time at 6:19 local time with 1:27 remaining in the third quarter. Minutes later, after a series of lightning flashes, the stadium was ordered emptied. And five minutes later the game was declared over.
Michigan Stadium’s new scoreboards were filled not with football replays but of a weather map, featuring Doppler information showing that more storms, coming out of the west, were headed toward Ann Arbor.
“It looked like we wouldn’t be able to play until 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Western coach Bill Cubit.
In any event, the Brady Hoke era at Michigan began with a successful opening act.
“It was wet and wild,” said the first-year head coach with a grin.
“He’s 1-0 and we like that,” said Brandon, who fired three-year coach Rich Rodriguez last January.
Michigan’s much maligned defense, with finished 108thin the nation last year, converted two turnovers into scores and they were the difference in the game. And both came from the same unlikely source, little-used linebacker Brendan Herron.
The Texas-native, who went to the same high school as teammate Troy Woolfolk, returned an interception 94 yards for a score, a Michigan all-time record. He also returned a fumble 28 yards for a score, shortly after the first rain delay. That came after a vicious sack and hit by safety Jordan Kovacs.
“I just saw the ball and started to run” said Herron, after the pass, thrown by Western’s Alex Carder was tipped by teammate Jake Ryan.
Herron played in just seven games last year and the fifth-year senior had only seven tackles.
Michigan’s defense started slow and WMU took the opening kickoff and marched 74 yards on 15 plays to take an early lead on a one-yard run by Antoin Scriven. WMU had the edge in the game in time possession, 25:18 to 18:15 and the Wolverines outgained the Broncos by only nine yards, 288-279.
“We have a lot of work to do on defense,” Hoke said.
But the coach was pleased Michigan had only one penalty and no turnovers.
Michigan’s Denard Robinson was not spectacular but he was effective. He ran for 46 yards and hit 9 0f 13 passes for 98 yards.
Michigan last played in a game delayed by lightning in 2006 in a win in Ann Arbor over Central Michigan. The game was delayed for roughly one hour.
Michigan hosts Notre Dame next Saturday in the first night game ever held at Michigan Stadium. It will begin at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn