— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Loose might be the word to describe Marshall’s football team as it prepares to play a noon game Saturday at Virginia Tech that it didn’t know would occur until a momentous Thanksgiving weekend.
The Hokies (5-6, 4-4) beat rival Virginia 34-31 in overtime last Friday, while Marshall (8-3, 6-2) ventured to Miami to take on Florida International the next day. The Herd took care of business on Saturday, beating the Panthers 28-25 and denying FIU a spot in this week’s Conference USA Championship Game against UAB.
Marshall and V-Tech had previously worked out a deal stipulating that if the Hokies beat the Cavaliers, Marshall would visit Blacksburg, Va. this Saturday in order to give Tech a chance to continue a 25-year consecutive bowl streak (the Hokies are one win from bowl eligibility). In exchange for the visit, Marshall is receiving a cash guarantee and a home-and-home series with the Hokies, starting in 2023 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
Both teams were also seeking a 12th regular season games after losing games on September 15 due to Hurricane Florence.
Herd senior offensive lineman Jordan Dowrey is grateful for a chance to play a 12th regular season contest in 2018.
“We went into the season expecting twelve and now we’ve got twelve,” Dowrey said. “It wasn’t the way you’d think it would happen, but we’re all excited about it.”
The circumstances leading to this week’s game are interesting as Marshall’s players watched the Hokies and Cavaliers at their Miami hotel while getting ready for the FIU game the next day.
Dowrey, who is a Virginia native, says that it was challenging keeping attention in two places last Friday, but now Marshall has a chance to make a statement as a program against a team from a Power 5 conference with rich football tradition.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and we don’t lose anything, by playing,” Dowrey said. “They’ve got a lot on the line and we’re here playing for fun and pride … it’s just a ‘go have fun’ kind of game.”
Even though an upcoming bowl trip is assured for the Thundering Herd, Marshall senior defensive lineman Malik Thompson is happy that a matchup with the Hokies gives him one more fall Saturday to take the field in the green and white.
“We don’t have that many games, unlike basketball which gets around 30 games a year, so it’s encouraging to me to get back out there one more time,” Thompson said. “We just need to get our bodies prepared and minds set because Tech is a very good team.”
Herd safety Malik Gant, who admits he was a Virginia Tech fan while growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, says the extra game was something he and his teammates wanted.
“We wanted to get that 12th game back that we lost (against South Carolina) and playing against Tech is a great opportunity,” Gant said. “We know that they need to beat us to keep their bowl streak alive and that is extra motivation for our offensive and defensive guys.”
Marshall’s starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Isaiah Green, says that despite Tech’s struggles this season, a Marshall win Saturday would garner the Herd attention on a national level.
“We need to show that we can compete with anybody,” Green said. “We feel that if we play our best game, we can compete with anyone, Power 5 or Group of 5.”
The Herd and Hokies have played 12 times and Tech has won 10 of the contests, including the last eight. The teams last met in September 2013 on a rainy day at Lane Stadium in a game nearly won by a Rakeem Cato-led Marshall team. Tech was able to prevail in that contest in three overtimes, 29-21.
Neither head coach has beaten the other team as Marshall’s Doc Holliday is 0-2 against Tech and Hokies coach Justin Fuente is 0-1 against the Herd as he lost to Marshall 38-28 in 2012 while coaching Memphis.