By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Years from now, when Marshall fans are thinking back on the history of their favorite college football team, the series with Central Florida will not be remembered fondly.
The Thundering Herd last defeated the Knights In 2004 on a blustery Halloween eve in Huntington. That was both teams’ final season as members of the Mid-American Conference, and UCF had one of the lousiest programs in the nation.
In 2005, UCF started to turn things around — largely at Marshall’s expense.
The teams’ inaugural Conference USA game was against each other. UCF’s 23-13 win proved to be a pivotal moment for the football program. It snapped a 17-game losing streak and led to the Knights becoming a perennial contender for the league championship.
It was also the first of an ongoing seven-game losing streak to the Knights by Marshall. Not every game has been a blowout — save the 2007 meeting, when current Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith rolled the Herd in a 47-13 UCF win — but there is no denying the Knights have been a thorn in Herd Nation’s collective flesh.
n In 2006, with the Herd looking to avenge the embarrassment of 2005, UCF deflated a Wednesday crowd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Anthony Binswanger’s 50-yard field goal, his third field goal of the game, put Marshall ahead 22-20 with three minutes to play. But the Knights drove 76 yards on the ensuing drive, and Michael Torres’ third 22-yard field goal of the night allowed UCF to escape with a 23-22 victory.
Marshall botched an extra-point attempt on its first touchdown in the one-point defeat.
n In 2009, Rocky Ross’ 1-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds remaining gave the Knights a 21-20 victory. It was bad enough that Marshall coughed up a 20-7 lead late in the third quarter. It was even worse that Ross was completely uncovered on the game-winner.
n Freshest in fans’ memories, of course, is last year’s 16-6 debacle in Orlando. The Herd could manage just 130 yards of offense and Rakeem Cato disrespected co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen.
And it rained. Hard. And a lot.
Marshall and UCF will meet for the final time at 8 p.m. today. UCF, along with Houston, SMU and Memphis, is leaving C-USA in July for the once greener pastures of the Big East.
It would be easy for the Herd (3-4, 2-1) to focus on ending their seven-game losing streak to the Knights. Beat them and send them on their way.
But there is a more important reason for Marshall to win the game. UCF (5-2, 3-0) leads the East Division, and Marshall is in position to unseat the Knights atop the standings.
That is the challenge that awaits the players and the coaches.
“Our team just has to go play,” head coach Doc Holliday said. “Do what you do and do your job because they’re plenty good enough. They just have to go do their job and we will see where we are at the end of the day.”
“At the end of the day,” Marshall wants to be waving the banner as division champion for the first time. Beating what has turned out to be its biggest nemesis is a must toward that goal.
Years from now, it sure would make all that reminiscing much nicer.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org