High School Football

Albany at Marshall: What to watch for

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Hot August days and the grind of fall camp have both come to an end, and it’s time for Marshall Football to begin another season. That will occur Saturday when the Thundering Herd play host to Albany in a contest starting at 6 p.m. that can be seen on ESPN+.

Albany played last Saturday, beating Fordham 34-13 at home. Quarterback Reese Poffenbarger threw four touchdowns and wide receiver Roy Alexander had six receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns. 

Anton Juncaj and AJ Simon dominated on defense as both finished with three sacks, with Juncaj adding a forced fumble in the first half.

This is the first meeting between Marshall and Albany.

Here are three things to look for in Saturday’s contest.

Cam Fancher’s progression: It’s hard to doubt a starting quarterback that led his team to five straight wins, but those doubts lingered coming into this fall for sophomore quarterback Cam Fancher.

Many wondered if Fancher would be pushed for his starting job with solid returnees among quarterbacks such as Cole Pennington and Chase Harrison, as well as Rice transfer T.J. McMahon.

Marshall head coach Charles Huff raved about Fancher’s fall camp work, saying he’s improved his communication and leadership with his teammates and his confidence has grown. It doesn’t hurt that Fancher will be working with a veteran offensive line, standout running back Rasheen Ali and a receiving corps that Huff calls more athletic than the one from 2022. 

Fancher is effective making plays with both his arm and legs and a big key for Saturday and moving forward will be his decision-making.

Defense debuts under Semore: Marshall’s 2023 defense has a hard act to follow. The Herd was a national leader last year, finishing No. 8 in total defense, No. 6 in scoring defense and No. 5 in rushing defense. 

Some of the key elements of that defense are back: Defensive end Owen Porter, linebacker Eli Neal and defensive back Micah Abraham. All three were preseason first-team All-Sun Belt Conference picks by the league’s coaches. 

Other key veterans back on the defensive line include Sam Burton, Elijah Alston, TyQaze Leggs and Isaiah Gibson. Several transfer portal additions will provide depth on the line. 

New defensive coordinator Jason Semore likes to say that a standard has been set for MU defenders and this year’s unit defense must live up to it. 

Porter, Neal and Abraham aren’t shy about reminding their teammates about the group is hoping to remain a national leader. Those standards will be challenged in September with upcoming games against East Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Albany seeks program-defining win: Recent years have been tough for the Great Danes, whose last winning season was a 9-5 campaign in 2019.

Coach Greg Gattuso’s team is 3-8 and 2-9 in the last two seasons, but last week’s win over Fordham gives Albany fans some hope, despite the Great Danes being picked to finish next-to-last in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Poffenbarger completed passes to 11 different players in the opener and the Great Danes were even more impressive defensively with 10 sacks. 

Win or lose, a solid performance Saturday would give the Great Danes a boost before they make the long trip to Hawaii next week.

Notes:It’s been a busy week for Huff. Not only has he been preparing his team for the season opener, but he also enjoyed an addition to his family. Jessica Huff gave birth to Blaze Otto Huff early Tuesday. Blaze is 7 pounds, 15 ounces and 21 inches long, and the second child in the Huff family, joining brother TJ … Marshall is 18-8 in season openers since moving up to FBS competition in 1997 … Marshall’s next win will be the 600th in school history against collegiate competition. The Herd’s first all-time collegiate game was on November 24th, 1903, a 15-0 win over a school that no longer exists — Shelton College of St. Albans.

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