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For the first time since joining Conference USA in 2005 Marshall Football will compete for a conference championship.
The Thundering Herd will take on the Rice Owls on their home field in Houston Saturday at noon. After a big win by the Herd over East Carolina on Friday, 59-28, the chances of Marshall hosting the conference championship game seemed more likely than ever. But the computer polls used in the Bowl Championship Series rankings had Rice ranked higher. Because both teams finished conference play 7-1, the rankings were used to break the tie and determine the host of Saturday’s game.
Marshall Head Coach Doc Holliday said the team has put the fact that they didn’t get to host behind them and is preparing for a good Rice team.
“They’ve won 15 of their last 18 games, they haven’t lost a home game since we beat them there a year ago and if you look at them offensively their leading our league in rushing and their third in total offense and their quarterback McHargue is a tremendous player that can beat you with his feet as well as throw it and they have a great tailback that has over 1,000 yards,” Holliday said.
Rice capped their regular season with a 17-13 home victory over Tulane University. The win improved their conference record to the aforementioned 7-1 and to an overall record of 9-3 just like the Thundering Herd. Holliday said his Herd have to be ready for a team that will come right at them with a physical running game.
The game will mark the fifth meeting between the two programs, all coming since Marshall joined Conference USA in 2005. Marshall holds a 3-1 series edge and has won the last two meetings including a 54-51 victory in overtime in Houston in the 2012 season. Holliday said this year’s team is better than that 2012 version because of a balanced offense that includes 2012 league MVP Rakeem Cato at quarterback throwing to 1,000 yard receiver Tommy Shuler and handing the ball off to 1,000 yard running back EssrayTaliaferro.
The game marks the first time the Thundering Herd has played for a conference championship since hosting and winning the 2002 Mid-American Conference Championship game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington. A win by the Rice Owls would be the first time since 1957 that they have won a conference title.
Senior Tight-End Gator Hoskins said to win the war you have to win your individual battles.
“That team isn’t just going to lay down and let us come in there and win, they’re a great defense and it’s just going to be a war,” Hoskins said.
Holliday said the difference in this year’s 9-3 team that’s playing for a conference championship and last year’s 5-7 team is this year’s team handles adversity.
"Whether it's in a game or regardless of the adversity these kids face, instead of running and hiding from it they look it right in the eye and go attack it," Holliday said.
“I think in years past any adversity that hit them it would affect them in a different way, whereas right now adversity doesn’t affect them a whole heck of a lot, they’re use to adversity and they can handle it, whatever it is, whether it’s in a game or regardless of the adversity these kids face, instead of running and hiding from it they look it right in the eye and go attack it,” Holliday said.
Saturday’s noon kickoff between the Herd and Owls can be seen on ESPN2.