Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 31, 2013

Lots of history surrounds Herd and RedHawks

By GARY FAUBER
for the Daily Telegraph

HUNTINGTON — Throughout the week, much of the history relating the football programs at Marshall and Miami (Ohio) has been brought to light.

There was Miami’s 66-6 win in the third game of the 1971 season — less than one year after the tragic Marshall plane crash that killed all 75 people aboard. Thundering Herd fans believe the then-Redskins ran up the score.

There was the rivalry between the two during Marshall’s days in the Mid-American Conference — a rivalry that was largely one-sided in the Herd’s favor.

There was Miami’s accusation that Marshall had bugged the RedHawks’ locker room.

Then there was the infamous night of Nov. 12, 2002 — two days before Marshall’s remembrance of the tragedy — when the Herd beat Miami 36-34 on a touchdown run by quarterback Stan Hill with five seconds remaining. Hill was playing in place of an injured Byron Leftwich, and a pair of pass interference calls against Miami helped make Hill’s TD possible.

But it was what happened afterward that most people remember more. RedHawks assistant Taver Johnson threw a tirade and damaged the visiting coaches box, and defensive coordinator Jon Wauford was arrested after allegedly knocking a Marshall fan to the turf. The fan, Robert Flaugher, was knocked unconscious after his head hit the turf.

The teams have not met since 2004, a year before Marshall left the MAC to join Conference USA. But there’s plenty of history to make those nine years seem more like nine months.

Marshall will host the RedHawks at 7 p.m. today in a game that can be seen on CBS Sports Network. As much as the programs are linked, Marshall coach Doc Holliday said the fact that it’s the season opener should be motivation enough.

“We have told them all along that this is the most important game because it’s the first one,” he said. “Miami is a team with great tradition. ... Our players understand they better be prepared Saturday if they want to have a chance.”

Drawing inspiration from the history is fine, but the Herd has more pressing issues to face for the 2013 season as a whole.

Chief among them is shoring up a defense that ranked among the worst in the nation last year.

Holliday would also like to an improved running game, which didn’t exactly struggle last season. Senior Essray Taliaferro emerged from the preseason as the starting running back Kevin Grooms is ready to expand on his Freshman of the Year season.

Sophomores Steward Butler and Remi Watson are also expected to see significant playing time.

Holliday is confident he has enough depth at offensive line to make the running game even more effective.

“We have some offensive linemen with Josh Lovell and Sebastian Johansson in the mix there. (Beckley native) Clint Van Horn is playing extremely well,” Holliday said. “There are seven or eight offensive linemen who are going to roll in there.”

Getting off to a good start could go a long way in setting a winning tone. Marshall has not won a season opener under Holliday and not since 2009 — Mark Snyder’s last season as head coach — when it beat Southern Illinois 31-28.

“Right now there are about 124 teams that think they’re going undefeated. Everyone is excited right now. It’s like I told our guys all along,” Holliday said Tuesday. “Everyone thinks they worked harder than anyone else up to this point.

“It’s what happens with your team as far as preparation and investment. School starts and distractions start to take place. The teams that handle the distractions and continue to prepare and be invested like they need to be, those are the ones that win. We have to make sure that our team is one of those teams.”

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Gary Fauber is assistant sports editor at The Register-Herald.