Marshall football: East Carolina game more than a rivalry
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall University-East Carolina University football rivalry is one with deep connections and great respect from both sides. It's also one that, after the Pirates and Thundering Herd face off at noon Friday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, gets put on the shelf.
Friday's game, a de facto Conference USA East Division title game to be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network, will be the last for the two teams as conference rivals. The Pirates, who have faced Marshall annually since 2005, move to the American Athletic Conference next season.
"I think it's a great rivalry and a great game," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "Who knows?
"Maybe (Athletic Director Mike Hamrick) is working on something to get that to continue. That's up to Mike and whatever they decide to do."
Hamrick, who spent eight years as ECU's AD, said in an item posted on the Herd's athletic website that there have been discussions about a future home-and-home series between the two teams. It's a development that fans on both sides would appreciate. It was from East Carolina that Marshall was traveling on Nov. 14, 1970, when the team plane crashed and killed 75 players, coaches, staff and boosters. ECU created its own memorial for the plane-crash victims, which sits outside the visitors locker room at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
ECU Coach Ruffin McNeill is a Pirates alum and former player who faced the Herd in 1978. He said he'll miss the rivalry for several reasons. He'll miss competing against his friend Holliday and he'll miss what has often been an exciting game between two programs that are alike in many ways. The two teams have faced off 14 times, with ECU holding a 10-4 lead. Four of those games have gone into overtime, including Marshall's 64-61 GMAC Bowl win. Three of those overtime games have come in the last five meetings, including the last two, which the teams split.
"It's always been a game where it's been two really good football teams ... and always been a game of big plays and of teams that, I feel, really are built similarly, from the fans and the support we have and the kids who love their universities and love playing for them. It all ties in and makes it just a really exciting game."
TIGHT END Gator Hoskins can add another award to his growing collection. The senior was named national tight end of the week by the College Football Performance Awards after catching six passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns against Florida International University. Those three touchdowns gave him Marshall's top spot among tight ends in career touchdown catches (25) and also put him in fourth place overall by himself, passing Aaron Dobson and Troy Brown.
A senior, Hoskins said the time running out on his college career has spurred him to make a lasting impression on the Herd's record books.
"It's really the last go-around for me," Hoskins said. "These last two years, I've been trying to practice really hard, prepare really hard and work extra hard than what I've used to."
He wasn't, though, among the three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to college football's top tight end. The three finalists were North Carolina's Eric Ebron, Florida State's Nick O'Leary and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Hoskins was a semifinalist.
* * *
SAFETY A.J. LEGGETT, who has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain, should be back for Friday's game, Holliday said. The redshirt freshman, who leads the team with three interceptions, practiced last week, but wasn't 100 percent.
Captains for the ECU game are Hoskins, quarterback Rakeem Cato, defensive lineman James Rouse and corner Monterius Lovett. It is Hoskins' third captaincy, Lovett's fifth, Rouse's sixth and Cato's seventh.
ECU nose tackle Terry Williams, who started the Pirates' first three games, but was suspended for the eight because of a team-rule violation, was let back on the team via player vote, McNeill said. Williams recorded nine tackles, one for a loss, in those three games.
* * *
STRENGTH AND conditioning Coach Scott Sinclair wanted to remind the Herd players what was at stake, so he decided to send the message - at the risk of some frostbite.
Sinclair shed his top during warm-ups Monday afternoon and exhorted the players while shirtless and wearing a replica of a professional wrestling championship belt made famous by Ric Flair.
"I was pretty good until the fourth or fifth period, and then I started getting chilly," Sinclair said.
"I just wanted to do something different to get them going. We've been talking about it since I've gotten here, about winning a championship, and we have an opportunity to do that this weekend."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.