The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 24, 2013

Marshall playing for a championship again

Herd, ECU for East Division title

“We Play for Championships” is no longer just a mantra that harkens back to the golden days of Marshall football.

On Black Friday, the Thundering Herd will be doing exactly that.

The Conference USA East Division championship will be at stake when Marshall (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) hosts East Carolina (9-2, 6-1) at noon the day after Thanksgiving. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

Marshall, already assured of its best C-USA finish in nine seasons as a member, has not played for a conference title in any form since it beat Toledo 49-45 for the Mid-American Conference championship in 2002, also in Huntington.

“Well, that was the goal,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said after last Saturday’s 48-10 win at Florida International. “That’s what this fan base wants and it’s what the community and the school want. That’s what I came here to do. I mean, I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think we could play for championships.”

The win over FIU was Marshall’s second straight on the road, the first time that has happened since 2004. The last a Marshall team won eight games in a season was 2003.

Now, the Herd returns home for its biggest game in Huntington in 11 years.

“I think we’re right where we need to be and now we’ve got to go and do it,” Holliday said. “We will play an excellent football team that I have great respect for. It’s going to be a heck of an atmosphere so I’m looking forward to it. Let’s go play and see what happens.”

Let there be no doubt, the competition will take a step — or three — up. Marshall has won four straight, but its opponents during that streak — Southern Miss, UAB, Tulsa and FIU — have a combined 6-38 record.

The Pirates, on the other hand, are coming off a 42-28 win at N.C. State. The Wolfpack (3-8) is a far cry from the team that once boasted as its starting quarterback Phillip Rivers (now with the San Diego Chargers) and Holliday as one of its assistant coaches, but it is a BCS-conference team nonetheless.

ECU is in its last year in C-USA before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2014, so it would definitely like to go out on top.

Standing in the Pirates’ way is a team that would like to return to the top, a position it occupied frequently as college football’s winningest team of the 1990s.

“Yeah, we’ve all been wanting to talk about next Friday for the past two weeks,” Holliday said. “It was concerning for me as a football coach having to come down here and everybody’s talking to these kids about the East Carolina game next Friday and the first time we’ve had the opportunity to be in the championship conversation at this point in the season. It’s been around 11 years, so finally we can talk about it.

“I told the players in the locker room, ‘This was the goal.’ We wanted to have the opportunity to play for a championship at the end of the year and here it is. So we have to do a great job with our preparations for that.”

— E-mail: gfauber

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