HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Long vocal about aspiring to win the C-USA championship, Marshall players are in the midst of a two-game losing streak and chasing FAU and FIU, the teams that beat them the last two weeks.
That means the Herd (6-3, 3-2) have no margin for error as they host Western Kentucky (5-4, 3-2).
“All our games are must-win now. We have to win all three of these games and get a a little outside help to go to the conference championship game,” cornerback Chris Jackson said. “We lost a few games, but we just have to bounce back.”
Marshall currently sits in third place in C-USA East.
“Our goals, standards and expectations never change,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “I told our kids last night this is a big game because it’s the next one up, because of who it is, and because it is the game that represents the 75 who were lost in that plane crash.”
47 years later
Nearing the 47th anniversary of the crash that decimated the football program, players reflected on what it means to play for Marshall at such an emotional time for the community.
“That could have been us on one of the plane rides home,” said Jackson. “It didn’t happen directly to us, but we feel it because we are here now and part of the Marshall family and that is part of the Marshall story.”
Levi Brown said the game closest to the anniversary always feels bigger than football.
“Playing with that 75 sticker on your helmet is something that shows the game is bigger than you and the current 2017 Marshall team,” he said. “It is absolutely all about commemorating the people who lost their lives in the plane crash and trying to make the family members who are still around happy.”
Brown’s first experience hearing about the tragedy occurred on his second visit to campus when he witnessed the memorial fountain.
“Just being able to sit there and hear people who lost loved ones first hand and trying to get a better grasp on what happened, it really wakes you up and lets you know this is a special place,” the sophomore center said. “No other school has this story and it is still going on. People around today have lost their fathers. It lets you know this is just bigger than a lot of other places.”
Jordan Dowery said he was exposed to Marshall’s story through the movie, but after coming here and playing for the team, he has a deeper understanding of the impact.
“When you step on campus you really find out what it meant to the community — it wasn’t just a movie,” Dowery said. “It was unspeakable what the community had to go through.”
Tricks no treats
After trick plays gashed the Herd defense early in the season — in the N.C. State game, for example — Marshall once again fell victim to trickery Saturday against FAU. Two trick plays in a row took the Owls 94 yards in just 52 seconds for a touchdown.
Considering Western Kentucky’s success with trick-play design this season, Malik Gant and the rest of the Herd’s defense must be well prepared.
“Looking through most of our games this year, once people see that we are constantly stopping them each drive, they go to trick plays,” Gant said. “I think we need to be more aware and cautious of that because they got us with that (double pass to Devin Singletary).”
Gant’s secondary mate Jackson said an emphasis on assignment discipline is a must.
“We just have to re-emphasize reading our keys, reading the plays, watching for fakes. That whole drive was fueled by two trick plays back to back.” Jackson said. “That was a big turn of momentum for them and we just have to come in and work on it in practice.”
Western Kentucky handed Marshall its worst home loss in program history last year, a 60-6 beating in the season finale. The Herd hasn’t forgotten.
“When I am in the tunnel and see red I just get mad,” Marshall defensive lineman Blake Keller.
Holliday stands 0-3 against the Hilltoppers.
“Seeing the emotion building up after last year and knowing we are going to be playing one of our biggest rivals, you get really excited to play the game,” said center Levi Brown. “You look back at the film last year, and having something like 60 points hung up on you is something you never want to have.”
—By Troy Alexander