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Herd to play on 50th anniversary of crash

HUNTINGTON — November 14 always holds a special amount of weight for the Marshall Thundering Herd, as the team plays on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed 75 people, including 37 Marshall football players in 1970. A day of remembrance commences on the campus, as a memorial for those killed takes place every year. As for the football team itself, the green and white (6-0) is not only priding itself on being ranked 16th in the AP top 25 poll, it’s taking this day to remember the 75. When Middle Tennessee (2-5) comes to town to play at noon, it will have its hands full. Head coach Doc Holliday is 10-0 in games closest to the week in which the victims are honored.

“As we all know, this is the biggest game on our schedule, every year. Our kids understand the importance of it, and how important it is to our community, fanbase and our school,” Holliday said. “They’ve got to do a great job with their preparation and getting ready to go play this game. I’ve got great respect for (MTSU head coach) Rick Stockstill, and he’s not only a great coach, but a great person. They play extremely hard, and they’re well-coached.”

The Herd is ready for a slew of games that were rescheduled due to the ongoing pandemic, and every win could mean inching closer to a position in the top ten. While Middle’s 2-5 mark on the year doesn’t do the team any favors for contending in Conference USA, the Blue Raiders still have weapons at their disposal. In the team’s 40-34 double-overtime win over Rice on October 24, the offense came alive to win in a shootout. The always-mobile Asher O’Hara took control under center and on the ground, as his 333 yards passing and 69 yards rushing led the way. O’Hara contributed four total scores in the win, and receivers CJ Windham (seven receptions, 109 yards and a touchdown) and Yusuf Ali (five receptions, 98 yards and a touchdown) were the major benefactors of O’Hara’s big day.

“That quarterback O’Hara is a pain in the neck,” Holliday said. “You watch him play, and nobody can tackle him. He’s just all over the place making plays. It’ll be a great challenge for our defense. What they do defensively is just create pressure coming from everywhere, so it’ll be a challenge for our offense as well.

O’Hara is tough. He’s got great toughness, and he’s fearless. I’ve just spent the last two days watching him running around doing the same thing to other people that he’s done to us. We’ve got to find a way to get him stopped and to eliminate the plays where everything breaks down.”

Last year, MTSU got the better of the Herd in Murfreesboro, 24-13. O’Hara threw for 261 yards and ran for 76 on the ground in that victory, but one thing has changed from a year ago: the defense’s ability to create havoc.

Marshall is third in the country in total defense, as only Wisconsin and San Diego State are ahead of them. Right behind them are West Virginia and Army, as coincidentally enough, Marshall and Army have a home-and-home series coming up in 2025 and 2026. Nonetheless, Marshall’s skill players have exceeded expectations set by preseason C-USA pollsters who picked the Herd to finish in the middle of the pack in the East division. Running back Brenden Knox had more than 100 yards and two scores in the 51-10 win over UMass, and Grant Wells continues to impress in his freshman year with three touchdown passes in that victory His showing was enough for him to be recognized as last week’s Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. Holliday talked about the young signal caller’s growth, as the former George Washington Patriot shines in the spotlight.

“He’s a guy who just goes to work every day,” Holliday said of Wells. “He does a great job with his progression. He works really hard at preparing himself to go play. He deserves what he gets, and his teammates have great respect for him about the way he goes about his business. We’re just happy for him and happy for Marshall. A lot of these kids, when we recruit them, aren’t from around here. (The crash) happened 50 years ago, so we have to educate them about the crash and what it means. In his case, he hasn’t, because he grew up here. He understands the history of Marshall, and it’s very important to him.”

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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