Nov. 14 will always live in Marshall football infamy.
But on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed 75 people, including nearly the entire roster and coaching staff, the Thundering Herd will try to give their fans a better memory of the day.
Ranked 16th this week, Marshall looks to improve to 7-0 when it hosts Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee State on Saturday in Huntington, W. Va. The Thundering Herd, 3-0 in conference play, are coming off a 51-10 rout last week against overmatched Massachusetts.
Minutes after that game ended, Marshall coach Doc Holliday gave his players a quick history lesson on the importance of playing on Nov. 14.
“This is the most important game we play all year,” he said. “It’s not even close. They understand that next Saturday, it’s a game you better prepare harder than you’ve ever prepared. This game means more to our community, fan base and school than any game you’ll play all year.
“When you put that ’75’ on your helmet and put on that black jersey and black pants, you better be ready to go play.”
The Herd have been on point all year, relying on an experienced offensive line and a stout defense to cruise through most of their games. All their wins have been by double figures, although the only one that really moved the needle nationally was a 17-7 verdict Sept. 19 over then-No. 23 Appalachian State.
The Minutemen got the entire Marshall offense thrown at them last week. Brenden Knox ran for 118 yards, the fifth straight game he’s gone over 100. Freshman quarterback Grant Wells hit on 21 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. And the Marshall defense steadied after a rough first quarter, ceding just 190 yards and 12 first downs for the day.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State (2-5, 2-3) has been idle since Oct. 24, when it survived Rice 40-34 in double overtime. That game was most notable for the Owls’ decision to play for a 44-yard field goal attempt in the first OT — and then the kick bounced off both uprights and the crossbar (twice) before landing in the end zone: A “quadruple doink.”
Quarterback Asher O’Hara made the Blue Raiders’ flight from Houston a happy one, however, winning the game with a 14-yard touchdown run. O’Hara has been the star of the Middle Tennessee offense this year, throwing for 1,509 yards and 11 scores while rushing for a team-high 476 yards and six touchdowns. He’s been responsible for 17 of the Blue Raiders’ 23 touchdowns.
Middle Tennessee State’s game scheduled for last week against Charlotte was postponed because of COVID-19 cases and contact tracing in the 49ers’ program. The teams are aiming to reschedule the game in December.
Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill calls the recent circumstances surrounding his team unique.
“We’ve had a good couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s not an advantage, because we didn’t spend any extra time working on Marshall … but it is what it is. You can’t control it.”
Middle Tennessee State leads the all-time series 4-3, including a 24-13 decision last year in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
–Field Level Media