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BOGACZYK: Marshall-LaTech, a History Worth Retelling

Dec. 5, 2014



HUNTINGTON – You never know what you’ll find when you start digging.

Hopefully, it isn’t a utility line.

OK, I digress, but a couple of revelations were really interesting in researching the short – and very distant – history of the Marshall-Louisiana Tech football series prior to their matchup in Saturday’s noon Conference USA Championship Game at Edwards Stadium.

Tech and the then-Big Green – Marshall didn’t officially adopt the Thundering Herd nickname until Jan. 5, 1964 – have played once, on Friday night, Oct. 9, 1942. Marshall traveled to Ruston, La., and fell 26-0 to Tech, coached by Joe Aillet, for whom the Bulldogs’ current stadium is named.

That Marshall team, coached by Cam Henderson, finished 1-7-1 in a season before the program took a three-year hiatus during World War II. MU opened with a scoreless Fairfield Stadium tie with Morehead State, then lost seven in a row before beating Bradley in the Marshall Homecoming and season finale.

Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank "Gunner" Gatski was the Marshall center in that game, with co-captain Sam Clagg – later the MU Hall of Fame co-founder and future geography professor -- at blocking back.

Wanting to find out more about that Tech-Marshall game, I went deep on campus … to Morrow Library archivist Lori Thompson, who can go deep with Rakeem Cato-type precision. She located three stories from two newspapers – The Parthenon and Huntington Advertiser.

She also noticed something else … and the Herd needs to hope it’s not an omen.

The week before Marshall was blanked at Louisiana Tech, the stories said Henderson’s team also lost … to Western Kentucky, 19-13. And here is the 2014 C-USA title game, presenting the same matchup under the same bounce-back circumstances Marshall faced after losing to Western 72 years ago.



What are the odds of that? Marshall facing Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech one week apart, 72 seasons apart … when over those years, the teams had met so infrequently?

At first I thought what Thompson had read was wrong, because Marshall football media guides – I could find them dating back into the early 1960s – all listed Kentucky Wesleyan as the 1942 foe the week prior to Louisiana Tech.

A check of WKU records, however, shows a 1942 home game against Marshall on Oct. 3. And that explains why – before last week’s Herd-Hilltoppers game – MU had the all-time series as 4-0 Marshall, while Western had it 4-1.

It made sense, too, because Western Kentucky had played at Marshall the previous season, while MU and Kentucky Wesleyan hadn’t met in more than two decades. It turns out Marshall last played Kentucky Wesleyan in 1920.

Anyway, back to the 1942 game …

Henderson took 20 players to Ruston, leaving at 4:30 a.m. the day before the game. The team stopped in St. Louis that afternoon for a practice at Washington University, then bused on to Ruston, La., arriving about 2 p.m. Friday for an 8:15 kickoff that night.

Aillet’s team, with a 41-man roster, was coming off wins over two teams they would join seven decades later in C-USA – Mississippi Southern (Southern Miss) and the Texas School of Mines (UTEP). The Bulldogs broke a scoreless tie with a third-quarter TD, then added three scores in the fourth quarter.

Marshall lost starting linemen Charlie Snyder (the MU coach from 1959-67), Herb Hines and Omer Elam to injuries during the game.

Fullback John Talerico was called a "freshman sensation." Jack Chapman, "a sophomore thunderbolt," co-captain Paul McCuskey and Dick Damron were Marshall ball carriers.

The Herd made the long trip home, arriving at 9:25 p.m. Sunday after a Friday night game. Next up, six days later, was a visit to Fairfield Stadium by the Fort Knox Armoraiders, stocked with former college and pro players in the service during the war.

It was the only game in history between Marshall and Fort Knox – a 20-6 Armoraiders’ win.

That was then. This is now. Marshall was on the road at Western and Tech in 1942. This time, the Herd is home.

It’s taken 72 seasons to get Louisiana Tech and Marshall together again on a football field.

With a championship at stake, it’s probably been worth the wait.

# # #

Marshall’s offense is on the verge of two impressive school records entering the C-USA title game.

The 2014 Herd has posted 6,895 total offense this season, and needs 393 yards to set a school single-season record of 7,288. The 1996 NCAA Division I-AA champion Herd owns the record of 7,287 (in 15 games). The average per game record is 534.3 yards in 2012. The current average in 2014 is 574.6.

Coordinator Bill Legg’s offense has scored 560 points in 12 games. The school record of 658 (in 15 games) was set in 1996. The 1992 team is the only other Herd squad to eclipse 600 (with 604 in 15 games). Last season’s 10-4 Herd scored 590. The 560 is tied for fourth-best in school history with the ’94 I-AA runner-up, which finished 12-2.