By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
ANNAPOLIS, Md. —
As Marshall punter Tyler Williams surveyed his seventh and final punt at the sixth annual Military Bowl, a 41-yard kick with 1:44 left, a chant was heard for the first time at a football game in the state of Maryland.
“Let’s go, Herd!” shouted the fans in green shirts and jackets, punctuating the Thundering Herd’s 31-20 victory over Maryland on Friday evening.
Simultaneously, scores of red- and black-clad Maryland fans quietly left their seats and disappeared into the darkness surrounding Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in their home state, thinning out a crowd announced as 30,163.
The Huntington-based Marshall squad had never played a football game in the state, but the fans in green made their presence known both around the school’s official hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., and on game day at the bowl site about 50 miles east.
Senior Gator Hoskins, who scored the game-clinching touchdown on an 8-yard pass reception with 3:42 remaining, said the fans’ presence was helpful to the Herd.
“It meant a lot,” Hoskins said. “Playing against Maryland, we looked across, and they had a lot of red over there in the stands. We look over here, there’s a lot of green.”
“My last touchdown, I threw the ball in the stands to let ’em know that I love ’em, and I’m thankful.”
Before the first kickoff, Military Bowl organizers made sure it would be a memorable day.
With the temperature at an unseasonable 46 degrees, four parachutists descended to the playing surface, a pair of U.S. flags fluttering around them.
Then a 95-yard-wide American flag was unfurled on the field by employees of bowl sponsor Northrop Grumman and by military families selected by the USO — which was the beneficiary of proceeds from the game.
Ten members of the U.S. armed services, in dress uniforms, formed a semicircle prior to the coin flip by Marines’ Sergeant Major Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior non-commissioned officer in the American military.
Marshall’s four honorary captains included Medal of Honor winner Woody Williams, former Marshall and Navy coach Jack Lengyel, former MU quarterback Byron Leftwich and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
In honor of the occasion, the interior of the letter M on the Marshall helmet was filled with the image of an American flag. The stripes down the crown of the helmet were red and blue with white stars.
The number 75, memorializing the number of deaths in the Marshall football team plane crash of 1970, re-appeared on the other side of the helmet.
Then the 2013 edition of the Thundering Herd created new memories.
Marshall, averaging more than 500 yards per game this season, ran 79 plays on offense for 475 yards.
Junior quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 337 yards and three scores, tying the Military Bowl record and being named the game’s most valuable player. He put his best foot forward for a national TV audience and for talent evaluators, both for postseason awards and for a pro contract sometime in the future.
A Herd defense that gave up an average of 43.1 points last season settled in and ended 2013 with a season average of 22.9 points allowed.
More importantly, Marshall improved its record from 5-7 to 10-4, winning its eight bowl game in its last nine and improving to 8-3 all-time in bowls. Only Utah (13-4) has a better bowl-game winning percentage among major colleges that have played 10 or more postseason contests.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said, “It’s a great way to send the seniors out, and it’s a great way to carry the momentum over to the offseason and into next year.”
Hoskins said, “Our senior class, we sent (Marshall) out the right way. We got 10 wins. We went to the conference championship. Next year, I’m expecting them to win it (or) I’m coming back for Cato.”
— Contact Tom Bone at