Chuck McGill: Gatorade bath comes early, but Herd and Holliday can do it again next Saturday
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- In the twilight of Marshall's 59-28 Conference USA East Division clinching win Friday afternoon, Derrick Thomas draped an arm around the shoulders of his head coach, Doc Holliday, and distracted him from the mischief.
Behind Holliday, two players hoisted a tub of Gatorade and drenched the unsuspecting coach from his white sweatshirt down to his black Nike shoes. A second wave of sugary sports drink and ice -- from different culprits -- came moments later.
Holliday, who improved to 8-0 all-time in November home games and guided the Thundering Herd into next Saturday's C-USA title game, flashed a toothy grin and embraced his players.
Still, he would've preferred to delay the dousing for eight days.
"I wish they hadn't of done that because that should be reserved for the championship," Holliday said after Marshall routed rival East Carolina to improve to 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play.
"I guess it's been so damn long (since) we won one around here, they had to practice."
An announced crowd of 25,117 -- the ninth-largest November crowd in Edwards Stadium history -- watched as Marshall reeled off its fifth consecutive victory to capture the East Division crown. The Herd's opponent and the championship site will be determined after this weekend's games.
Marshall has averaged five victories per year over the last eight seasons, but can get win No. 10 of the season in the C-USA championship game.
"We haven't played for a championship in 11 years," Holliday said. "That's the biggest game that has been in that stadium in 11 years. To dominate that team the way we did, it's huge. But we've got a bigger one next week."
No matter the opponent, Marshall can use Friday's most impressive win to date as a springboard. At 9-3, East Carolina has more wins than the Herd's previous four opponents combined (6-38). MU's seven FBS wins this season came against opponents with a combined record of 17-60, and UTSA, at 6-5, was the only one of those with a winning record going into the regular season's final weekend.
But Marshall walloped ECU by 31 points -- equaling the largest margin in which the Herd has ever defeated the Pirates. Marshall also scored 59 points -- just as it did last season in a 65-59 loss in Greenville, N.C. -- giving the Herd the distinction of being the only program to ever score 50-plus points on East Carolina in consecutive seasons.
The win also caps a November to remember.
Marshall went 5-0 the last five weeks -- the first time the program won as many games in a month since November of 1991. The Herd defeated Western Carolina, The Citadel, VMI, East Tennessee State and Western Illinois by an average of 25.4 points in that perfect 5-for-5 feat. This month, Marshall crushed its FBS competition by an average of 34 points.
Holliday may have joked that his players needed practice with the post-game celebration, but they needed to experience a win of this magnitude, too. There is a reason to believe this is real, and not an aberration of a product of a soft schedule.
"The culture's changed," Holliday said.
Indeed. In Mark Snyder's final season in Huntington, he enjoyed a Gatorade bath when the Herd gained bowl eligibility. When Marshall defeated UAB three weeks ago, Holliday said: "I can assure you we didn't have any Gatorade baths or were dancing in the locker room because we won six games. That's what we expect to do around here."
Those expectations, to Holliday's credit, are growing.
"Our ultimate goal is not to win the East," said Holliday, who left his smile with the ice scattered around the 40-yard line of the Edwards Stadium turf, "it is to win the championship."