By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Tulsa football coach Bill Blankenship knows all about what this date means to Marshall. What it means to the university, to the community and to the Thundering Herd fans.
Blankenship doesn’t need to see the No. 75 that will adorn the left side of every Marshall helmet on the field at H.A. Chapman Stadium tonight to understand what this game represents.
For the first time in 43 years, the Thundering Herd will play a road game on this date. On this night in 1970, 75 lives were lost as Marshall’s plane crashed as it was returning from North Carolina, where the Herd had lost to East Carolina mere hours before. Everyone on board — coaches, players, support staff and flight crew — was killed in what remains the worst air tragedy in American sports history.
As Marshall continues its pursuit of a championship, the Herd is playing for so much more. And that doesn’t scare Blankenship.
Even better, he both respects and appreciates it.
“I was a junior high football player (in 1970), thinking about that and watching the drama that unfolded,” Blankenship said. “When we traveled to Marshall a few years ago, we went by the monument (positioned near the site of crash near Huntington). It was a little more meaningful for our players, putting all of that together with the movie (“We Are Marshall”). It was a horrible thing to comprehend.”
The players will be unable to attend the annual shutting off of the Memorial Fountain today, but will be able to view live streaming of the ceremony.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday addressed the importance of the day with his team.
“Our kids have always been at every memorial service and they understand from the moment they walk on campus what happened in 1970,” Holliday said. “The players won’t be at the memorial service, but they will be there in spirit.”
The game is important for more than just the date on which it will be played. Marshall (6-3, 4-1) has its sights set on wining the Conference USA championship, and the Golden Hurricane (2-7, 1-4), despite recent struggles, represents a huge road block.
Tulsa, which beat Central Florida in last year’s C-USA title game and then beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, was predicted to win the league again. A host of injuries and suspensions have instead turned the season into a nightmare.
The Hurricane still has plenty of firepower at its disposal, including running back Trey Watts. The son of former University of Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, he ran for 111 yards and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in Tulsa’s 45-38 win at Marshall last year.
Watts is currently second in C-USA in rushing, averaging 95.2 yards per game and scoring six touchdowns.
Also back is Nebraska transfer Cody Green at quarterback, although he did not play in last week’s 58-24 loss at ECU. Redshirt freshman Dane Evans played and was 14 of 33 for 142 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Holliday is ignoring the struggles Tulsa has endured. He expects a tremendously difficult game tonight.
“I know they’ll play with a lot of confidence and they will be coached up really well,” said Holliday, who would like to see his team improve on a 1-3 road record. “They are only one year removed from winning (11) games. They are also in an area where they can recruit a lot of really talented players. We’re going to get their best shot and I expect them to play extremely hard. I know they will. Our guys have to be ready to go play.”
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