— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University remains one tough team to put away when it comes to the Memorial Game.
The game is played on a date close to the anniversary of the Nov. 14, 1970 Marshall football team plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 coaches, players, staff, community members and flight crew. Thundering Herd players wear all black uniforms with the school logo from 1970 on one side of the helmet and the number 75 on the other.
The game matched Conference USA powers Louisiana Tech and Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Thundering Herd took advantage of several errors by the Bulldogs to post a 31-10 victory in front of 19,893 fans and those watching the live CBS Sports Network telecast.
The Herd has not lost the Memorial Game since Doc Holliday has been head coach.
Marshall, now 7-3 overall and 5-1 in league play, shares the top spot in the East with Florida Atlantic, but owns the tiebreaker over the Owls should the two be tied the end of the season. Louisiana Tech (8-2, 5-1) has a half -game lead over Southern Miss in the West division.
The Bulldogs scored first, but it was all Marshall after the 9:07 mark in period one.Yes, Justin Rohrwasser did miss a field goal, but he later connected from 44 yards and Isaiah Green threw a TD pass to Willie Johnson to put Marshall ahead to stay, 10-7.
Brenden Knox scored on a 1-yard run with 40 seconds left in the second period after the Bulldogs fumbled the ball at the 1 when punter Brady Farlow failed to handle the snap.
“I feel we were the best team on the field in all three phases,” Holliday said. “Our players embrace the history and the tradition. They handled everything well.”
“That changed the complexion of the game,” Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz said of the botched punt. “We did not help him (quarterback Aaron Allen, redshirt freshman making his first start). We did not play as clean as we needed.”
Louisiana Tech scored in the opening quarter on a 5-yard run by Justin Henderson to cap an eight-play, 55-yard drive. On the drive, Allen completed passes of 16 yards to Smoke Harris and 19 yards to Malik Henry. In the second period, Marshall went for it with 4-and-6 at the Tech 34, but in an unusual lineup, backup quarterback Grant Wells ran to the right only to come up short.
On the next possession, the Bulldogs drove to the Marshall 25, but Bailey Hale hit the right upright on a 42-yard field goal try.
The Bulldogs entered the game shorthanded. Senior starting quarterback J’Mar Smith, junior wide receiver Adrian Hardy and senior linebacker James Jackson got suspended due to an athletic department policy violation. The statement said that Smith and Hardy will also sit out next week’s game against UAB, while Jackson’s suspension is for one game.
Allen started and Westin Elliott came in in the fourth period after Allen was hurt. Louisiana Tech came into the game No. 1 in the league in scoring at a 38-point pace. This was the lowest output of the season for the Bulldogs. Their 261 total yards also is a season low.
Another bright spot for the Herd was the return of wide out Obi Obialo to the lineup. He saw his first action of the season and caught eight for 164 yards, both career bests. Knox ran for 113 yards to go over 1,000 yards for the season. He’s No. 1 in C-USA in that category.
Obialo was injured during preseason camp and did not return until the team’s 10th game of the season. Holliday said the senior from Coppell, Texas, had practiced during the team’s off week, but he wasn’t going to let the secret slip.
“How about Obi,” Holliday said. “He was our best receiver going into the season, we lost him and then snuck him in there today.”
“I know what type of player Obi is,” Green said. “There’s not too many people in this league who can stop him, regardless if they know he’s playing or not.”
Marshall returns to action next Saturday at Charlotte.
The 49ers now will have to add defending Obialo to their packages.
“I wanted to get back with my brothers,” Obialo said. “God has a plan for me.”