BOGACZYK: Herd Ready to Play Title Game in the Present
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 3, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The message coming from Marshall’s football team this week is "past is past." A stunning loss to Western Kentucky last Friday – curbing an unbeaten season -- was last week. It was last month, for that matter.
As for the Thundering Herd’s previous Conference USA Championship Game appearance 361 days ago? That loss at Rice is history, too.
"It’s a good question," Marshall senior linebacker Neville Hewitt responded when asked which hurt worse, the loss to WKU last week or the setback to the Owls last season. "I’d say last year’s championship game hurt most because you’re playing for a championship, and a championship is something you never forget. So, that hurt worse."
This time, the Herd (11-11, 7-1) gets the C-USA title game at friendly Edwards Stadium, with Louisiana Tech (8-4, 7-1) coming to town for Saturday’s noon kickoff. How does last season’s history lesson help Coach Doc Holliday’s fifth Marshall team?
"Well, we know how it felt to lose a championship," Hewitt said. "And we know we have to prepare, whatever we do. This week, we need to do whatever we have to do to find a way to win."
When the Herd spoke of goals prior to this season, at the top of the conversation was winning a league title, something Marshall hasn’t done since a 2002 Mid-American Conference crown, the fifth in six seasons.
An unbeaten season? That was an add-on, as the number on the left side of W-L grew. So, is the pressure that goes with going from 8-0 to 9-0 to 10-0 perhaps history, too?
"I think so, and our goal this season was to win the conference championship," Herd senior tight end Eric Frohnapfel said. "To be unbeaten, we hoped for that to come with it, and it hasn’t. But yeah, it’s over with now and we don’t have to worry about that.
"Now, it’s just that we can really focus on LaTech and it’s different for us, unique, coming off of a loss. We haven’t done that this season, but I think it’s going to be a good week of practice for us.
"The last game didn’t go like we wanted, but we’re still home for the conference championship game, which is what we wanted at the beginning of the year. So, that goal is still out there for us and that is big for us."
Holliday said the Bulldogs’ visit isn’t just another game, and the Herd grasps that.
"The ultimate goal is to pay for a championship, and here we are in Huntington, playing for a championship," Holliday said Tuesday. "It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s been 12 years since that’s happened here, and if they aren’t excited for that, as hard as they worked, and all they’ve put into it …
"They’re fine. They’re competitors, and that being said, if you have the competitors I know we have, they’re going to come out and compete as hard as they can on Saturday."
Herd defensive tackle James Rouse said Saturday’s opponent offers a template for Marshall. LaTech, with a chance to run the table as an unbeaten division winner just like the Herd had, lost 30-27 in overtime at Old Dominion on Nov. 22 before bouncing back and flying Rice, 76-31, last Saturday.
"I think you can learn from anything," Rouse said, "and a team that loses against some team and rallies back to have a great performance the next week … it’s just one of those things that anybody can get beat any day. You have to bring you’re ‘A game’ every week."
Holliday’s team will be playing for a 13th conference title in school history.
Marshall won West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles in 1925, ’28 and ’31, and a Buckeye Conference crown in 1937. The Herd won Southern Conference championships in 1988, ’94, and ’96, then MAC titles from 1997-2000 and in 2002.
And for 19 Marshall seniors, the 10th C-USA Championship Game a chance to have a "do-over" of their WKU-dampened Senior Day – the only team in the nation that has that opportunity on this "Championship Saturday" weekend in major college football.
"It was still great to run out in front of the fans like that (in pregame ceremonies last Friday)," Frohnapfel said, "but to get another home game is really special."
Linebacker D.J. Hunter said the Herd needs to use the home-field advantage at "The Joan" as it did during a 13-game stadium win streak that was ended last week by the Hilltoppers.
"Our leadership is going to kick in, Rouse, Neville, (Rakeem) Cato, Shu (Tommy Shuler)," Hunter said. We came up short last week, but that’s done now.
It’s hard to go undefeated on any level, from peewee to high school, to junior high and on. But we just didn’t come out and get the job done. We’re over what happened with Western Kentucky. We didn’t want it to go down like that but it did; it’s over; it’s in the past.
"We’re focused on LaTech and we’re going to go out there and give our all and get this win."
Frohnapfel said he and his classmates also will use last season’s 41-24 championship loss at Rice as a learning tool.
"I think playing on the road at Rice, an 11 o’clock (CST) kickoff and it was cold, I think all that together kind of led to us having a slow start, where they came out ready to play," Frohnapfel said. "I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for us.
"We’re going against a good team this week and we can’t come out like we did against Rice last year, or we’ll get hit in the mouth early. I think we’ll do a better job being prepared and being ready from the first snap."
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Marshall is 7-2 all-time in football championship games at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and 5-0 in conference championship games. The Louisiana Tech-Marshall game Saturday is the Herd’s first C-USA title date at "The Joan," which will celebrate its 25th season in 2015.
A look at previous title games at 38,248-seat Edwards Stadium:
NCAA Division I-AA Championship (2-2)
Season Date Score Attendance
1992 Dec. 19 Marshall 31. Youngstown State 28 31,304
1993 Dec. 18 Youngstown State 17, Marshall 5 29,218
1995 Dec. 16 Montana 22, Marshall 20 32,106
1996 Dec. 21 Marshall 49, Montana 29 30,052
Mid-American Conference Championship (5-0)
1997 Dec. 5 Marshall 34, Toledo 14 28,021
1998 Dec. 4 Marshall 23, Toledo 17 28,085
1999 Dec. 3 Marshall 34, Western Michigan 30 28,069
2000 Dec. 2 Marshall 19, Western Michigan 14 24,816
2002 Dec. 7 Marshall 49, Toledo 45 24,582