www.charlestondailymail.com Marshall Sports http://www.charlestondailymail.com Daily Mail feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Herd preparing itself for WVU's pressure http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141211/DM03/141219748 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141211/DM03/141219748 Thu, 11 Dec 2014 21:35:15 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - After spending the last few days analyzing West Virginia University's pressure defense, Marshall men's basketball coach Dan D'Antoni needed one word to describe it.

"Nasty," he said.

Any defense like the No. 22 Mountaineers' that births a Twitter hashtag like "#PressVirginia" must be pretty potent. It's the best in Division I at generating steals at 14 per game. Opponents commit nearly 23 turnovers against the Mountaineers per game.

And when D'Antoni and the Thundering Herd face WVU at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Charleston Civic Center (ROOT), they'll stare down the type of defense that has bothered them the most this year.

The effectiveness of WVU's (8-1) pressure defense comes as much from its attitude as it does from its structure, D'Antoni said.

"It's their tenacity as players, and probably coach (Bob) Huggins' tenacity with them," he said. "Bob does a good job. ... It's a gambling, pressure-type defense that forces the game to speed and forces turnovers that you score off of."

Sunday's game will be Marshall junior guard Tamron Manning's third against the Mountaineers. As he's broken down film on this year's WVU team, he's seen an intensity from that roster that he hadn't seen in WVU rosters in the past. These Mountaineers, he said, are playing harder than he's ever seen them play.

"They've got a bunch of junkyard dogs," he said. "A lot of them just want to pressure the ball. They don't care about stats. They want to do whatever they can do to help the team win."

What is one of West Virginia's greatest defensive strengths is also one of Marshall's greatest offensive weaknesses. The Herd (3-5) is tied for 35th in Division I for most turnovers committed per game, with 15.6. Marshall's Nov. 21 loss at Louisville offered a blueprint of how to best stymie the Herd's offense - pressure the ball.

The Cardinals pressed, and Marshall coughed up the ball 21 times, 13 times on steals. Other opponents tried the same strategy. The Herd turned the ball over 17 times against Cleveland State and 19 times against South Carolina.

While Louisville brought pressure, Manning said WVU will employ a different type.

"They don't just use their guards," Manning said. "They've got some athletic bigs that press, too. That's just a different element. They put the athletic big on the guard. Louisville puts their two guards out there and just let them do whatever they want to do. Now, it's more of a constant trapping.

"They just want to get a lot of traps. Really, the main thing they want is for the big to bring it up the court. When our big is Ryan (Taylor), when you throw it back to Ryan, he's a different kind of big, so you can't expect him to just dribble off his foot or turn it over. They want the big to bring it up, deny the guard and play from there."

Yet Taylor - the versatile 6-foot-5 sophomore who leads Marshall in points (15.3 per game) and rebounds (9.0 per game) - also is the Herd's most turnover-prone player. He has 25 so far this year. Freshman guard Aleksa Nikolic has 22 against his team-high 28 assists.

West Virginia's press is something D'Antoni said is nearly impossible to replicate in practice. It comes down, for him, to having faith that the players can step up to the challenge and, if anything, use the experience against West Virginia's defense as a learning tool.

Nikolic said plenty of lessons have been taught already in preparation for Sunday's game.

"Every pass must be strong," Nikolic said. "Everything we do must be strong. We can't be lazy, because every time, they'd steal. Every time they reach for the ball, we must be strong with the ball and make quick decisions."

The freshman is only eight games into his college career and only about four months into life as a college student in America. But, it hasn't taken long for him to realize how tough a test he'll face against the Mountaineers' pressure.

"It's a nightmare for point guards," he said.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Herd Marshall rout Salem International http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219859 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219859 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 22:21:10 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall University had great balance in earning a 84-41 victory over Salem International at home in women's basketball action at the Henderson Center.

The Herd had five double figure scorers, led by Chukwuka Ezeigbo with 19 points, who added 10 rebounds. Leah Scott also had a double double for Marshall with 14 points and 10 boards.

Also for Marshall, which improves to 5-2, A.J. Johnson, Norrisha Victrum, and McKenzie Akers all had 10 points apiece. The Herd led 39-15 at halftime, and was never threatened.

In falling to 0-10, Samantha Aikens led Salem International with 16 points and Shakinah Haggins added 14 points.

]]>
MARSHALL BASKETBALL: With experience comes confidence for Nikolic http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219864 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219864 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 21:24:17 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As Aleksa Nikolic's comfort level has grown, so has his presence on the court for the Marshall men's basketball team.

The freshman from Serbia logged the most minutes he's had all season in the Thundering Herd's last two games, losses to South Carolina and Penn State. He earned the first start of his short career against the Nittany Lions.

That doesn't mean Herd coach Dan D'Antoni has become hands-off on Nikolic. On the contrary, as Marshall (3-5) prepares for Sunday's Capital Classic matchup versus West Virginia (8-1) at the Charleston Civic Center (4:30 p.m., Root Sports), D'Antoni has focused even closer on the freshman's progress.

Nikolic said he'll never turn down hands-on help from a Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame point guard like his head coach.

"I really appreciate that, that he'll really focus on the small, small things that will help me a lot," he said. "Like the rotation of my shot, elevating, being careful with the ball. I think I'm getting better. I'm a lot more comfortable right now."

Nikolic played 35 minutes against South Carolina, which gave D'Antoni enough trust in him to elevate him into the starting lineup as D'Antoni looked for a combination that gave the Herd the best chance to win. Nikolic responded against Penn State with season highs in field goals attempted (11), made (four), and points scored (10) in 29 minutes of action.

On the season, Nikolic is averaging 3.3 points per game, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

"I think he's getting better," D'Antoni said. "It's a process of him just being aggressive, playing without hesitating, playing without worrying about what happened. I think as he becomes more aggressive and lets it all hang out, he'll get better."

Hesitancy is the last thing Nikolic needs as a point guard, D'Antoni said, especially with the Mountaineers' ability to pressure the ball-handler. During Wednesday's practice, D'Antoni was in Nikolic's ear, cautioning him against taking too much time to make a decision. If he was open to shoot, D'Antoni wanted him to shoot. If the lane was open, he wanted him to drive. What he didn't want at all was for Nikolic to dawdle as he mulled his options.

"Indecisiveness hurts you in everything," D'Antoni said. "I don't care what it is. Be decisive. You study, you work, you prepare. But once you get into anything, now you have to be decisive.

"I'm not saying you rush into something and just do it just to be doing it. What I'm saying is you work and prepare so that, when you're there and you're decisive, it's the right way."

Nikolic sees other areas he can work on. He wants to add more rotation to his jump shot, which, because of the placement of his hand, floats through the air like a knuckleball. He wants to add muscle to his 6-foot-5, 188-pound frame, so he can use his length closer to the basket to corral rebounds.

Like many aspects of Marshall's basketball program this season, Nikolic understands he's a work in progress.

"I have a lot of space to improve," he said. "I'm still growing and my wingspan will grow. It's a little bit harder to get strength when you're going, but now every time at practice, I'll do some push-ups, some jumps and some things. I'll go to the weight room and that will help."

So when D'Antoni has some advice to offer, Nikolic is ready to listen and apply it.

"Of course," he said. "Only that way can I grow again and help the team and help myself."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
Derek Redd: Herd's culture change made program of champions http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219869 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219869 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 21:19:52 -0500 CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Rakeem Cato loves how the word "champion" rolls off his tongue. He loves how it feels on his fingertips when he types it.

Marshall's quarterback can say it now that he is one. He and the Thundering Herd football team accomplished what became a five-year mission for coach Doc Holliday, winning the program's first Conference USA title.

Since then, he's gotten all the mileage out of that word that he can. Sunday morning, Holliday got a text message from Cato of just one word - champion. Cato will use that word everywhere.

Seriously. Everywhere.

"I went to Wendy's right after the game," he said. "'Can I have a number five, please? I'm a champion.'"

No Marshall football player had been able to say that since 2002, the season of the Herd's final Mid-American Conference title. The journey back to that pinnacle had its share of twists and turns. What it took, Holliday said, was an alteration of the program's DNA. Culture change brought the Herd back to a championship level, and Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said culture change was Holliday's primary mission when he hired the veteran assistant for his first head coaching job.

Hamrick had a season to observe Marshall football before he decided to hire Holliday, and he wasn't happy with what he saw.

"The culture of this program was in the dumpster when I arrived here," Hamrick said.

That 2009 season, the last under former head coach Mark Snyder, was the first since 2003 that the Herd had won more than six games, and Marshall needed a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win under interim coach Rick Minter in order to accomplish that.

Hamrick wanted a new attitude for his football team. Actually, he wanted an old attitude, the winning attitude the Herd enjoyed through five MAC championships in six seasons.

"The first thing I told these guys in our first team meeting was change is hard," Holliday said. "And if you don't like where you are, you've got to change what you're doing.

"And a lot of guys, to be honest, they ... football's a tough game and there's nowhere to hide," he continued. "And if you're not tough - and these guys will tell you that - and if you don't love football, and if it's not really important to you, it's not really a whole hell of a lot of fun. For a couple years here, to be honest, there were a couple of guys that just didn't really ... they didn't want to buy into it, they didn't like ball and they weren't very tough."

And as a result, Marshall sandwiched a 7-6 Beef 'O' Brady's bowl winner in between two 5-7 seasons. Through those struggles, Holliday went about changing Marshall's DNA, one nucleobase at a time. He recruited tough kids and thrust them into the starting lineup early. Cato got there as a freshman. Center Chris Jasperse got there as a redshirt freshman. Receiver Tommy Shuler got there as a sophomore.

As more and more of Holliday's players took their places on the roster, Jasperse said the rebuilding process got easier.

"You just had to rally guys around you and say, hey, listen, we're going to do this the right way," he said. "You try to get a couple guys and you keep adding. Each year you just add a couple more guys. The people on the fence, you get them on your side."

Cato, Shuler and Jasperse all sat at the front table during Monday's Boca Raton Bowl press conference. Senior corner Darryl Roberts, senior linebacker Neville Hewitt and senior defensive lineman James Rouse did, too. Rouse actually is a sixth-year player, winning this season back with an appeal to the NCAA after missing most of the 2011 and all of the 2012 campaigns.

After taking a barrage of "old man" jokes, Rouse mentioned that he was the only one at the table who was on the roster before Holliday's arrival. Actually, he's the only member of the current roster who was on it pre-Holliday. He viewed Holliday's arrival from a different perspective, but he ended up being considered one of the coach's own.

"New people come in and they have to figure out who are the people they can count on on the team," he said. "Who are the accountable guys going to be on the team? That takes time in itself, figuring out who are going to be your guys on the team and who can lead the team.

"After his recruiting, getting guys in here that can put an impact on the program, and actually get these guys in the weight room and get these guys focused and buying into the program, then everything took care of itself and everybody started believing in it and believing we can be great."

That belief manifested itself in last Saturday's championship win. And it gave Cato the chance to use the word "champion" even when he's ordering a cheeseburger combo. It wasn't easy getting to the point where "Marshall" and "champion" could be uttered in the same sentence. There were plenty of battles in the meantime that Holliday and the players had to fight in order to create a team worthy of the term.

"But you know what? When you held that trophy up there Saturday, it made it all worthwhile," Holliday said. "Right now we're at the point where we don't ever expect it to change. It ain't gonna change. We don't rebuild anymore around here. We reload."

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd wins trio of C-USA individual awards http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219870 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219870 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 21:17:16 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall football team's awards haul didn't stop with Tuesday's all-Conference USA squads. The C-USA champion Thundering Herd picked up a trio of individual conference awards on Wednesday, as voted by the conference's coaches.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday was named C-USA's coach of the year, while quarterback Rakeem Cato was named the conference's offensive player of the year and linebacker Neville Hewitt was named the conference's defensive player of the year.

It's the first coach of the year award for Holliday and first individual award for Hewitt. It was the third straight conference individual award for Cato, who was named the conference's 2012 most valuable player and 2013 offensive player of the year.

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty was named this season's C-USA MVP, even though conference coaches voted him the all-conference second-team quarterback and voted Cato to the first team.

Holliday coached the Herd to its first C-USA title in its second straight championship game appearance, beating Louisiana Tech, 26-23, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Marshall's 12 wins this season are the most the Herd has amassed in a single season since the team's 13-0 season in 1999. Marshall will face Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois on Dec. 23 in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.

In the press conference following that title game, Holliday credited his roster for the strides Marshall has made since he arrived as the Herd's head coach in December 2009.

"It's a special bunch," Holliday said. "I told them (Saturday) morning, as we were all getting on the bus to head this way, that I have had the opportunity to win a bunch of championships and won a national title but I have never been more proud of a football team as I am of this one."

Hewitt arrived at Marshall last season as a transfer from Georgia Military College, made an immediate impact on defense, and improved on that showing in 2014. Last season, he finished second on the team with 83 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He eclipsed all of those numbers this season, totaling a team-high 114 tackles, 12 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. He also grabbed the interception that clinched the C-USA title game for Marshall.

Hewitt's award is the third defensive player of the year award Marshall has earned in C-USA. Vinny Curry won the award in 2011 and Albert McClellan shared the award with Tulsa linebacker Nick Bunting in 2006.

Cato is one of only four players in C-USA history to win three major postseason conference awards. Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone, Houston quarterback Case Keenum and Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams are the others.

Cato has 3,622 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 242-for-414 passing. In his final year, he became Marshall's career leader in completions, attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense.

As much as he appreciates individual awards, it was that conference title he had coveted most. He said so during Monday's Boca Raton Bowl press conference.

"That was the main goal in any sport," Cato said. "No matter what type of sport it is. If you're an athlete, that's the main goal, to win a championship, to be the best in that year.

"We talk about it all the time. Be the best. Be great. Don't be afraid to be great. That's what we wanted to do."

University of Alabama at Birmingham kick returner J.J. Nelson, in the Blazers' final season, was named the conference's special teams player of the year. Old Dominion running back Ray Lawry was named conference freshman of the year, while Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol, a graduate transfer from Iowa, was named conference newcomer of the year.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL SOCCER: Herd's Jodah earns NSCAA All-Region honor http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219928 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219928 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:57:27 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall men's soccer sophomore Daniel Jodah was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Southeast Region third team.

Jodah, a forward, scored five goals this season, leading the team in goals and points. He also produced three game winners for the Herd in 2014 and was the primary leader for Marshall's attacking line.

Jodah is the first Herd player to earn NSCAA honors for the Herd since 2012, when former goalkeeper Daniel Withrow was named to the first team.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd teams up for 'Kick-Off for Kids' http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219929 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141210/DM03/141219929 Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:55:29 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall football will partner with 93.1 The Dawg radio station to host a "Kick-Off for Kids" toy drive on Saturday.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. and will run until 3 p.m. at the Barboursville Wal-Mart.

Members of the Herd will be present at the charity event. Radio personality Julie Reeves will broadcast the event live.

Marshall is asking for new, unwrapped toys when making donations. All proceeds will go to children of the tri-state area.

For more information, contact football director of operations Mark Gale at gale@marshall.edu.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd dominates all-Conference USA team http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141209/DM03/141209150 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141209/DM03/141209150 Tue, 9 Dec 2014 22:52:42 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's football team finished one of its best seasons in program history with the best showing on the all-Conference USA teams in the history of the conference.

The C-USA champion Thundering Herd placed 10 players on the all-conference first-team list and 12 overall, both conference records. Marshall also put a trio of players on the conference's all-freshman team.

The Herd finished the regular season at 12-1, coming back to beat Louisiana Tech for the C-USA title last Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Marshall will face Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois on Dec. 23 in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.

Several of the Herd's all-conference honorees were at Monday's bowl press conference, and Marshall coach Doc Holliday said they were instrumental in the team's resurgence.

"These guys have changed the culture of this program," Holliday said. "They got it back to winning championships. The one final piece they hadn't gotten until Saturday was the championship. These guys are champions and they got the program back to where all of us want it to be."

Marshall put five offensive players, three defensive players and two special teamers on the all-C-USA first team. Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato, running back Devon Johnson, receiver Tommy Shuler and offensive linemen Chris Jasperse and Clint Van Horn paced the offense.

Cato, C-USA's preseason offensive player of the year, became Marshall's career leader in attempts, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense this season. He has amassed 3,622 yards, 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on 242-of-414 passing. Johnson, in his first year as a collegiate tailback, rushed for a conference-best 1,636 yards, despite missing all of Marshall's game against Southern Mississippi and carrying the ball just seven times in the last two games. He also scored 16 rushing touchdowns.

Shuler has gained 953 yards and eight touchdowns on 74 catches. He sits just two catches behind Josh Davis for the Marshall career receptions record. With Jasperse and Van Horn on the line, Marshall led the conference in rushing offense and total offense and the unit has allowed just 19 sacks this season.

Marshall's defensive first-teamers are defensive lineman James Rouse, linebacker Neville Hewitt and corner Darryl Roberts. Hewitt led Conference USA in total tackles with 114, adding 12 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups and an interception. Roberts led C-USA with 17 passes defended, 16 breakups and an interception. He added 72 tackles, 3.5 for a loss. Rouse, C-USA's preseason defensive player of the year, faced double-teams and sometimes triple-teams this season. He finished with 40 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, with 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Marshall's first-team special teamers were punter Tyler Williams and long snapper Matt Cincotta. Williams punted just 39 times in 13 games, averaging 44.8 yards per punt. Cincotta snapped for both Williams and placekicker Justin Haig.

The Herd put two players on the second-team defense, defensive lineman Arnold Blackmon and linebacker Jermaine Holmes. Blackmon finished fifth in C-USA with 13.5 tackles for a loss and recorded 38 tackles overall with eight sacks. Holmes recorded 96 tackles, 9.5 for a loss an a sack.

Marshall also put five players on the honorable mention list - tight end Eric Frohnapfel, defensive lineman Ra'Shawde Myers, linebacker D.J. Hunter, defensive back Corey Tindal and Shuler at punt returner.

Marshall's trio on the all-freshman team includes tight end Ryan Yurachek, receiver Angelo Jean-Louis and defensive back Antavis Rowe. Rowe has recorded 22 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Jean-Louis caught 19 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns and Yurachek caught 16 passes for 142 yards and two scores.

Holliday said he appreciates the ability he's had to insert young players like Yurachek, Jean-Louis and Rowe into the lineup and not miss a beat.

"That's the one thing I love about this football team," Holliday said. "When somebody's gone down, somebody else has stepped up and gotten the job done."

Conference player and coach of the year awards will be announced Wednesday.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd to make most of short bowl prep time http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141209/DM03/141209151 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141209/DM03/141209151 Tue, 9 Dec 2014 22:50:35 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The practice sessions bowl-bound college football teams get are a gift many coaches consider more valuable than any bauble their bowl host can offer.

Those bowl-season practice sessions aren't limited except for the four-hours-per-day, 20-hours-per-week NCAA rules that govern the regular season. Marshall football coach Doc Holliday would like to shoehorn in as much practice time as possible between now and his Conference USA champion Thundering Herd's Dec. 23 date with Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. But he knows the clock is ticking.

As of today, the Herd (12-1) has less than two weeks before it stands across the FAU Stadium field from the Huskies (11-2). Players are taking final exams - and coaches are on the recruiting trail - and won't begin practice until the weekend. Then factor in next Friday's travel day.

The plan, Marshall coach Doc Holliday said, is to begin practice in earnest at the end of the week.

"We'll start on Friday," Holliday said. "We'll get nine to 10 practices in. We'll get the practices we need to be prepared, which is the important thing."

That doesn't mean there hasn't been at least a little bit of film study yet. Even though the Herd coaches have been canvassing the country talking to recruits, technology allows them to already take a look at their next opponent.

"They've all got iPads with the film on it," he said. "So they'll start to work on it at the hotels at night."

Within that game film is footage of NIU versus some familiar foes. Though Marshall's critics have knocked its MAC-heavy non-conference schedule, now there is an advantage to playing three MAC teams in one season. The Huskies and Herd share two common opponents - Miami (Ohio) and Ohio.

There's a benefit to that, center Chris Jasperse said. Marshall remembers how it played and how it did versus the RedHawks and Bobcats, and now it can use game film of those teams versus NIU. The Huskies beat Miami, 51-41, and beat Ohio, 21-14.

"It's about the personnel," Jasperse said. "We know how they match up against us and what they've done and see how we compare to them, going up against guys we've already gone against. And we'll just try to get a key off of that and see what they're doing."

With that condensed window for practice, Marshall's berth in the C-USA championship game became even more crucial. The fact Marshall had to prepare to face Louisiana Tech kept the Herd from cooling off.

"When you play a championship game, you get an extra week of practice right there," Holliday said.

Bowl practices offer another benefit for Marshall's roster. They allow players who enrolled in January as academic non-qualifiers to get at least a handful of practices under their belts. Non-qualifiers must sit a year before they can become eligible to practice.

That rule allowed a pair of Herd receivers - Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus - to get in a few workouts with the team. It seemed to help in the fall. The two combined to catch 43 passes for 839 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Holliday believes he'll have a couple more new faces this bowl season.

"We have to wait until finals are finished up and get the final grades," Holliday said. "I think the 16th or 17th, somewhere in that range because of when finals are over, we'll get three, maybe four new guys out there practicing, which is a real positive."

Last season's bowl schedule, which ended with the Dec. 27 Military Bowl against Maryland, gave the Herd a few more days of wiggle room in terms of practice. Holliday knows the team won't get that luxury this season, so the Herd had to get rolling.

"It's coming quick," he said. "So we need to get to work quick on it."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Bowl location a boost for Herd http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141208/DM03/141209224 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141208/DM03/141209224 Mon, 8 Dec 2014 22:39:04 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Many of the benefits Marshall's football team sees in its Dec. 23 Boca Raton Bowl matchup with Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois surround one concept - location, location, location.

When the Thundering Herd and Huskies clash at 6 p.m. that day at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla., it will close a five-day stay for Marshall in South Florida. Setting up shop in that area for almost a week offers the Herd plenty of advantages, Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.

"We get the opportunity for a lot of these guys to go home and play in their home state," Holliday said. "It'll help us, selfishly, from a recruiting standpoint, because were down there right in the middle of a major hotbed where we recruit."

There are 29 players from the Sunshine State on Marshall's roster, including several of the most prolific in program history. Quarterback Rakeem Cato, now the Herd's career leader in completions, attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense, is from Miami. So his receiver Tommy Shuler, Cato's high school teammate and the man who is only two catches behind Josh Davis for Marshall's career lead in that category. Corner Darryl Roberts, who leads Conference USA with 17 passes defended, is from Lakeland.

More than a quarter of Marshall's roster now has a chance for their families and friends to skip flights for car rides - some just a couple of hours and some less than an hour - to watch those players in action.

"We really don't get to see our families that much because we're up here," Roberts said. "Anytime we've got the opportunity to go back home and play, it's always fun. It always makes us play harder, because our family is there."

Shuler agreed that knowing loved ones can take advantage of a rare opportunity to see Marshall play can add an extra zing to game preparations.

"You always get juiced when you're about to play a football game," Shuler said, "but it's even more exciting knowing that your family can come and make up some of the times they weren't able to come up to Huntington to see us play. That'll be a blessing that they get to come to the game and we can play our final game there and show them what Marshall's made of.

"Some of them haven't seen it yet in person," he added. "We've got a lot to offer."

And, as the roster shows, Florida has had a lot to offer Marshall's football team. Holliday long has been an institution in terms of South Florida recruiting, all the way back to first days as a West Virginia University assistant three decades ago.

"Anytime you get the opportunity to play a bowl game in an area you recruit extremely heavy, it always helps you," Holliday said. "I'm sure we'll have some guys running around there."

Holliday sent his assistants out on the recruiting trail this week, taking one last trek around the country before an NCAA recruiting dead period begins and eliminates contact with prospects until the middle of January. Marshall's head coach said his assistants will be sure to mention that the Herd will return to the area.

According to the Rivals.com site dedicated to Marshall, the Herd has verbal commitments from linebacker Marquis Couch, offensive lineman Jason Jean and linebacker Sage Lewis, all from Miami, linebacker Doyle Grimes from Homestead and receiver Larry Dunnon from Greenacres. All five sit in the Dade-Broward-Palm Beach County area that has been so fruitful to Marshall.

While Marshall coaches can't talk to prospects during bowl week, those prospects can drop in and take a peek at Marshall's practices.

"You can't talk to them, you can't do that type of thing," he said. "But as long as you're compliant, they can come sit and watch and that type of thing. So you have to be very careful as to what you do. We'll do things the right way, but they can watch."

"We'll get a few guys who'll probably come watch practice while we're down there," he added, "because there are a lot of players in that area."

And anyone who watches Marshall practice will see some banged-up players back on the field, Holliday said. That would include running back Devon Johnson, whose injured shoulder limited him to just seven carries in the last two games, and offensive lineman Michael Selby, who had to leave the last two games with an injured ankle.

"There's no question we were a beat-up team on Saturday," Holliday said. "I don't see anybody that's not going to be ready to go by this weekend."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd to face Northern Illinois in Boca Raton Bowl http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209315 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209315 Sun, 7 Dec 2014 22:12:07 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The power of an 11-win conference champion trumped the draw of a power-conference opponent this bowl season for the Marshall football team.

The Thundering Herd, which edged Louisiana Tech, 26-23, on Saturday for the Conference USA championship, will face Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois on Tuesday, Dec. 23, in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. ESPN will televise the game.

The champion-versus-champion matchup was something not seen last bowl season outside of the Fiesta (UCF-Baylor) and Rose (Michigan State-Stanford) bowls and the BCS championship (Florida State-Auburn). The opportunity to participate in one this season was too intriguing for the Herd to pass up.

"I think it's very critical," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "One thing our team wanted to do ... we wanted to face the best possible opponent and the highest-ranked opponent that we possibly could in a great bowl game, and this works perfect for us."

Neither the Herd (12-1) nor the Huskies (11-2) finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press sportswriters poll, Amway coaches poll or College Football Playoff rankings. Marshall spent much of the season in both the AP and coaches polls, and one week in the CFP rankings, before its overtime loss to Western Kentucky knocked it out of all three. But both Marshall and NIU were found among the others receiving votes in the AP and coaches polls. None of the opponents in the other Conference USA-affiliated bowls received votes in either poll.

That date with the Huskies will be the Herd's fourth against a MAC foe this season. It defeated MAC opponents in three of its first four games - at Miami (Ohio), 42-27, at Akron, 48-17, and at home over Ohio, 44-14.

That MAC-heavy non-conference schedule was one of the criticisms laid against Marshall this season by the College Football Playoff committee, which chose the Group of Five spot in the "New Year's Six" bowls. That spot went to Mountain West champ Boise State, despite the Broncos having one more loss than the Herd.

Louisville of the ACC was supposed to be on the 2014 slate, but the Cardinals had to move that game to 2016 to accommodate its new conference schedule. Marshall had to schedule Rhode Island - a Football Championship Subdivision team that finished 1-11 - in its place.

There was one C-USA-affiliated bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, that offered a chance at a power-conference opponent. That game pits a C-USA team against a team from the Big Ten. This season's edition will put up C-USA runner-up Louisiana Tech versus 6-6 Illinois.

In Marshall's news release about the bowl, Herd athletic director Mike Hamrick said his request to Conference USA, which makes the ultimate decision on bowl destinations, was to find the best opponent. Conference affiliation wasn't his concern.

"We indicated to the bowl that we wanted to play the best football team out there, not the best name," Hamrick said. "Not from a so-called 'Power Five' conference. We wanted to play the very, very best team. And as I look at the AP rankings and as I look at the coaches rankings, Northern Illinois is the highest ranked. Not only are they highest ranked, they're a conference champion.

"We didn't care if we had to go to Hawaii or the Bahamas or wherever," he added. "We wanted to play the best football team we could play."

NIU won its third MAC championship in the past four seasons with a 51-17 thrashing of Bowling Green. The Huskies have won at least 11 games every season since 2010 and has won its last seven this year. Northern Illinois reached the 2012 Orange Bowl, where it lost to Florida State.

NIU coach Rod Carey was excited about the matchup with Marshall, though he wasn't ready to call the bowl game the Group of Five conferences' chance to show everyone how good the teams from those conferences can be.

"I think that's stuff better saved for most of you guys in the media," Carey said. "I think most of the media coverage tends to go toward the 'Power Five' and the playoff. But those that watch college football beyond just the casual fan - which I think is the majority of college football fans - understand that Conference USA and the MAC, there's just a ton of good football being played. And this will be no exception to that, because you have the two champions of those two leagues going at it."

Holliday said the Herd and the Huskies had a great opportunity to showcase both conferences in front of plenty of eyes.

"We're going to be on a national stage on the 23rd on ESPN, and I'm not sure there's another game on at that time," Holliday said. "People won't be bowl-weary at that point. They're going to be looking for a great game to watch. And I guarantee, if you look at the two teams playing ... that's going to be a game everybody's going to be excited about and look forward to seeing."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Herd's confidence grows despite struggles http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209317 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209317 Sun, 7 Dec 2014 22:11:01 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's men's basketball team walked off the court with its fifth straight loss Saturday night, a 73-69 setback to Penn State. Yet the Thundering Herd players weren't downtrodden. In fact, junior guard Tamron Manning said the team had more confidence in itself than it has in a while.

"I think Coach D'Antoni is a big reason we have a lot of confidence," he said, "because he instills so much confidence in you and he lets you do what he knows you can do out on the floor. He gives you a lot of confidence playing for him."

It's an attribute the Herd (3-5) will need as it spends the week getting ready for Sunday's 4:30 p.m. matchup with No. 16 West Virginia in the Capital Classic at the Charleston Civic Center.

D'Antoni, in his first year at the Herd's helm, has never considered himself a pessimist.

"I wake up in the morning and it's blue skies. Let's go," he said. "I'm not going to come in with a black cloud to practice. Never have, never will. Just not that type of person. It makes for a miserable life, and I'm not going to be miserable doing this."

Marshall offered some glimmers of hope against the Nittany Lions (8-1). After falling behind by 13 in the second half, the Herd climbed to within one with 1:12 left in the game, when junior Jay Johnson hit a pair of free throws to make it 66-65. But a Donovon Jack putback and two Jack free throws within a minute kept the Herd at bay.

D'Antoni saw some things he liked from the game. He was satisfied with Marshall's defensive effort, turning 14 Penn State turnovers into 22 points. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Herd 46-35, but he felt that was within reason considering Penn State's size.

What D'Antoni said he wanted from his team was examples of progress. The members of his roster were, in seasons past, role players and bit players while others shouldered the scoring load. He continued tinkering with the starting lineup, giving guards Justin Edmonds and Aleksa Nikolic their first career starts.

"It's a matter of growing as a team," he said. "It can get to 10 L's in a row. Still, we're growing. If we get up to where we knock one off and start moving in the other direction, that's fine. It's just a maturing process that we have to start to learn to play well."

Manning said D'Antoni has done very well in keeping spirits up in the middle of the Herd's struggles.

"Right now, we're going through a tough stretch," he said. "And he's been good with us, sitting down and telling us how close we are at getting over the hump. I think tonight was a good step forward."

Steps forward must continue, D'Antoni said. He wants the Herd to improve its performance against pressure defense. The Nittany Lions didn't press the Herd the way other teams had in the past. And D'Antoni knows the Mountaineers won't be bashful in pressuring the ball.

"The next team we face is one of the best at getting into you," he said.

Marshall also must bone up on its free-throw shooting. The Herd missed 14 of 32 attempts against Penn State, a stat that made the players cringe and mention what a better performance from the line would have done for their prospects.

Marshall will continue to be a work in progress, D'Antoni said. The team will work as much as possible through the week to get ready for the nationally ranked Mountaineers, but said he won't demand too much too soon.

"I would make a big mistake if I hurried that process," he said. "If I get antsy, I think it would just make it worse. And I'm not going to get antsy. I'm going to stay in there with them, coach as hard as they play and work them every day. I told them I won't quit. The last day, I told them I won't quit, and I think this team will follow."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd to face MAC champ Northern Illinois in Boca Raton Bowl http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209359 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209359 Sun, 7 Dec 2014 15:08:51 -0500 By Derek Redd It'll be the Conference USA champion versus the Mid-American Conference champion in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Daily Mail sources confirmed an ESPN report that C-USA champ Marshall and MAC champ Northern Illinois will face off at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla., at 6 p.m. on Dec. 23.

The Huskies have won their last seven games, and hammered Bowling Green, 51-17, in the MAC championship game. NIU has run through its opponents this season. The Huskies are 14th in the FBS with 252.9 yards per game. After Saturday's game, Marshall's first conference title win since the 2002 Mid-American Conference championship, Herd coach Doc Holliday and Marshall players said they weren't worried about their bowl destination. The conference title was their focus.

"I've never been to a bad bowl, and I've been to about 25 or 26 of them," Holliday said. "We'll see where it all shakes out. I think the thing is this football team is a heck of a football team, and they deserve everything they get."

The Herd trailed Louisiana Tech all the way until the last 1:50 of the game, when quarterback Rakeem Cato found Deon-Tay McManus in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Game MVP kicker Justin Haig, who booted a conference title game-record four field goals against the Bulldogs, grew up close to Florida Atlantic University in Delray Beach, Fla., and kicked a game-winning field goal to beat the Owls in FAU Stadium last season.

That date with the Huskies (11-2) will be the fourth the Herd (12-1) has scheduled against a MAC foe this season. It defeated MAC opponents in three of its first four games this season - at Miami (Ohio), 42-27, at Akron, 48-17, and at home over Ohio, 44-14.

That MAC-heavy non-conference schedule was one of the criticisms laid against Marshall this season by the College Football Playoff committee, which chose the Group of Five spot in the "New Year's Six" bowls. That spot went to Mountain West champ Boise State, despite the Broncos having one more loss than the Herd.

Louisville of the ACC was supposed to be on the 2014 slate, but the Cardinals had to move that game to 2016 to accommodate its new conference schedule. Marshall had to schedule Rhode Island - a Football Championship Subdivision team that finished 1-11 - in its place.

Return to charlestondailymail.com later tonight for more on this story.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Haig shrugs off weather for MVP performance http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209360 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141207/DM03/141209360 Sun, 7 Dec 2014 15:02:48 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON - When Justin Haig looked out his window Saturday morning before the Marshall football team's Conference USA title game versus Louisiana Tech, he didn't like what he saw.

Rain. Wind. A temperature in the low 50s and falling.

Then he made the mistake of looking at the weather in his hometown of Delray Beach, Fla.

"I saw it was 80 degrees and sunny," he said with a grin. "I was like, wow, man. It's definitely not ideal."

But it ended up being perfect for him.

Haig booted a C-USA title game record four field goals, set another title game record with three field goals of at least 40 yards, and won the game's MVP award in Marshall's 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech for the Herd's first C-USA crown.

The fifth-year senior had become a forgotten man of sorts during Marshall's C-USA title run. The Herd's juggernaut offense had been in the habit of scoring touchdowns and not needing field goals. Entering Saturday's game, Haig had made 12 of 16 field goals with a long of 37 yards.

Yet that didn't bother him. He knew how explosive the Rakeem Cato-led offense could be and how well punter Tyler Williams had done pooching punts inside the 20. He was fine with contributing extra points, and broke Tim Openlander's school record during Saturday's game, kicking his 213th point after touchdown.

But Marshall's offense started to stall in LA Tech territory and the Herd needed points, so Marshall coach Doc Holliday called on Haig to kick field goals from farther than he had all season. His 40-yarder in the second quarter was his longest of the season for about four minutes. As time ran out in the first half, he kicked his career long from 46 yards.

Haig actually got two tries at that distance. His first attempt sailed wide, but didn't count after LA Tech coach Skip Holtz called time out to ice him.

"The odds tell you with two time outs that that's the play," Holtz said. "It didn't work in our favor this time, but I'd play it the same way again."

Haig welcomed a second chance to kick from 46 yards. It gave him the opportunity to warm up his leg in inclement weather, plus the opportunity to correct any mistakes.

"With that weather, I'll take it as a free rep and tried to crank it," Haig said. "I cranked it and saw what I did wrong and just used it for my next attempt."

"I personally don't understand that concept (of icing the kicker)," he added. "Kickers, snappers, holders, we all like to take a practice rep."

That 46-yarder cut the Bulldogs' lead to 17-13 at halftime. He kicked another 40-yarder in the third quarter to bring Marshall to within one point at 17-16. His fourth field goal, a 24-yarder, made it 23-19 and gave Marshall the chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

While it's unique to see a kicker win MVP of a conference title game - especially when Cato threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning score with 1:50 to go - Cato had no problem with it.

"Listen, he's not an ordinary kicker," Cato said. "This guy is a guy ... we're on his tail all day, every day in practice, throughout the whole year. Four field goals is nothing to him. He's been doing it his whole life. He deserves it all."

n n n

MARSHALL'S DEFENSE had plenty to prove Saturday after last week's dismal performance. After giving up 738 yards and 67 points to Western Kentucky in that overtime loss, Marshall's first of the season, some wondered if the Herd defense's stellar numbers the rest of the year were a mirage.

The unit showed that last week was the fluke by stymieing the Bulldogs in the second half. In the first half of Saturday's game, LA Tech was able to handle the Marshall defense.

Louisiana Tech collected 178 yards and used a counter play to score on two Kenneth Dixon touchdown runs. The Bulldogs actually scored three times with that play, adding another Dixon touchdown run in the third quarter. Yet that was the only score the Bulldogs could muster in the second half.

LA Tech gained just 90 second-half yards. Dixon finished with 156 rushing yards, but 104 of them came in the first half.

"We had a bad game last week," linebacker Neville Hewitt said, "but we've been a good defense all year. We just had to go out there and show we are still a great defense."

Marshall ultimately held Louisiana Tech to 268 yards of total offense and held LA Tech quarterback Cody Sokol to just 72 yards and an interception on 7-of-20 passing. Hewitt sealed the win by picking off Sokol on the Bulldogs' last offensive play of the game.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday said his defense saved the day when the Herd struggled with four turnovers and a blocked punt.

"To turn the ball over like we did and to have a blocked punt like we did and to find a way to win that football game," he said. "I don't know if I have ever played in a game or coached a game where you had that many mistakes that we made and found a way to win."

n n n

DEVON JOHNSON, Conference USA's leading rusher, didn't look like he'd play a down Saturday. After injuring his left shoulder against WKU, his availability for the C-USA title game looked in doubt.

He didn't play until the third quarter, and carried only four times, but his appearance sparked the Herd's offense.

Johnson's left arm barely moved during warm-ups, but he took the field in the third quarter and immediately made an impact. He gained two first downs on Marshall's first drive of the second half, which led to Haig's 40-yard field goal that made the score 17-16.

Johnson finished with 34 yards on four carries. His teammates said that short stint sparked both the offense and defense.

"I love that guy," Hewitt said. "I'd been in treatment with him and I'd seen him, he couldn't even lift his arm up. And to try to make something happen, I take my hat off to him, man."

n n n

LOUISIANA TECH announced before the game that six players, including five starters, were out for the game because of academics. The list included starting left guard Tre Carter, starting right tackle Mitchell Bell, starting defensive tackle Aaron Brown, starting linebackers Tony Johnson and Terrell Pinson, and backup WR Tevin King. That robbed the Bulldogs of its second- and third-leading tacklers, plus two offensive linemen with 41 starts between them.

"We certainly knew it was coming," Holtz said. "Some guys stepped in and competed their tails off in their place. ... We can complain or step up and compete.

"I have said to this team a million times, the good Lord put eyes in the front of your head, not the back of your head," he added, "so you can see where you're going and not where you've been."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Late rally falls short as Herd falls to Penn State http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141206/DM03/141209384 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141206/DM03/141209384 Sat, 6 Dec 2014 21:57:27 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - An old adversary kept the Marshall men's basketball team from getting over the hump Saturday night against Penn State - the free throw line.

The Thundering Herd missed 14 of the 32 free throws it took against the Nittany Lions, spoiling its upset hopes in a 73-69 loss at the Cam Henderson Center, the Herd's fifth straight after starting the season 3-0.

"We played our butts off tonight, we lost by four and we missed 14 free throws," said Jay Johnson, who led Marshall with 17 points. "And that's not even counting the one-and-ones. If we hit those, look at the advantage we have."

Even with a poor night from the line, the Herd (3-5) still was able to cut the Nittany Lions' (8-1) lead to one point with 1:12 left in the game. Johnson hit a pair of free throws to make it 66-65, but on the other end the Herd didn't box out on a D.J. Newbill miss. Donovon Jack scored on the put-back, then hit a pair of free throws 11 seconds later to give Penn State enough cushion to win.

Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni didn't need anyone in the post-game interview to mention what hurt the Herd the most against Penn State.

"We've got to make some free throws, obviously," D'Antoni said. "Before anybody asks me that question, yeah, we have to make some free throws."

Marshall's 56.3 percent shooting from the free throw line marred what D'Antoni considered an intense defensive performance that the players felt kept them in the game.

"I thought the team gave good effort," Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni said. "Defensively, we were solid. We did a nice job on Newbill. Rebounding, they were a little bit bigger than we were, but we were pretty close."

The Nittany Lions outrebounded Marshall 46-35, but the Herd was able to pull down nine offensive rebounds to Penn State's 11. Marshall was able to force 14 Nittany Lion turnovers and turn them into 22 points.

"That was they hardest they've played all year, and I've watched all their tapes," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of the Herd. "That's a credit to their coach. Coming back after that South Carolina defeat, they had a week off and I knew it was going to be hard. They were ready to play."

Johnson said that defensive pressure helped on both ends of the court, allowing the Herd to resemble the offense D'Antoni wants to see.

"We forced them into turnovers and we actually got to play our game tonight, fast break and get the ball up and down," Johnson said.

Marshall jumped out to an 8-2 lead, led by five points from Justin Edmonds, who made his first career start. Penn State tied it soon after at 8-8 and the two teams played neck and neck until the Nittany Lions were able to pull away on an 8-1 run and lead 31-23 with 1:17 left in the half. PSU took a 31-24 lead into halftime after guard Aleksa Nikolic, also making his first career start, made one of two from the free-throw line with 28 seconds left.

Penn State led by as many as 13 in the second half, but Marshall started to return to striking distance by forcing eight turnovers in the game's last 17 minutes.

Johnson said Marshall played with confidence it hasn't felt in a while. That came from D'Antoni's energy during practice between the South Carolina game and Saturday.

"Basically, Coach has been on our butts since the South Carolina game," Johnson said. "He basically said y'all are a lot better than what you're showing right now. Give this community something to talk about again."

On the subject of Edmonds and Nikolic's inaugural starts, D'Antoni said that was more a product of what other players weren't doing to remain in the starting lineup. He added that, as the season progressed, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the starting lineup remains fluid.

"I was just trying to tell them that making decisions as a coach as to who's playing is a lot easier when you're winning," he said. "You know who that's you're going to play. But if there's gonna be 'L's, then I'm gonna keep searching, and if I keep searching, you're taking a chance that you might be sitting. That's just a process with any team. It's not easy for any player and it's not easy for the coach, but it's something that has to be done."

Marshall has a week in order to get ready for its next game, versus No. 16 West Virginia in the Capital Classic. That game tips off at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd beats LA Tech for first C-USA title http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141206/DM03/141209400 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141206/DM03/141209400 Sat, 6 Dec 2014 15:48:33 -0500 By Derek Redd

6 p.m. Update

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Doc Holliday arrived at Marshall University in December of 2009 as the Thundering Herd's new football coach, he vowed the team soon would play for championships.

Five years later, Marshall can call itself champion.

The Herd trailed Louisiana Tech for the first 58 minutes, 10 seconds of Saturday's Conference USA championship game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Its first lead was the only one it needed to beat the Bulldogs, 26-23, and hold aloft the C-USA title.

Rakeem Cato threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner to Deon-Tay McManus with 1:50 left in the game, and title game MVP Justin Haig booted four field goals, including three from at least 40 yards.

"How great does that sound, Conference USA champion?" Holliday asked. "I can't say enough how proud I am of my coaching staff, how proud I am of this football team. We overcame a lot out there today. I don't think I've ever been associated with a team that overcame so much adversity as what we did in that game and found a way to win at the end."

The Herd (12-1) suffered through three fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt, but none of that mattered when Cato found McManus in the back right corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

The Bulldogs (8-5) still had a chance to answer, but that rally lasted all of one play. LA Tech quarterback Cody Sokol threw an interception right into the arms of linebacker Neville Hewitt to ice the game for the Herd.

"It's still surreal," Hewitt said. "I was supposed to read the quarterback and he just threw it right to me."

Marshall, which lost to Rice in last season's C-USA championship, won its first C-USA title and first conference football title of any kind since beating Toledo for the Mid-American Conference championship at Edwards Stadium in 2002.

The Herd will learn its bowl destination Sunday afternoon. Conference USA has five primary bowl tie-ins: The Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, Tex., the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii, the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, N.M., and the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas.

The win also keeps the Herd eligible for the Group of Five slot in the "New Year's Six" bowl games, though it would need a Boise State loss in the Mountain West title game to climb back into contention.

The Herd dug itself into an early hole for the second straight week. After falling behind 14-0 to Western Kentucky in the first quarter of last week's loss, Marshall let the Bulldogs take a 10-0 first quarter lead. And, once again, the Herd's turnovers played a part.

Already leading 3-0, LA Tech recovered a Herd fumble with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Rakeem Cato and Steward Butler couldn't connect on a handoff and DeAngelo Brooks recovered at the Marshall 33. The Bulldogs needed one Kenneth Dixon run for the score.

That was the first of two Marshall turnovers that led to Bulldogs touchdowns. Michael Johnson was unable to get out of the way of a second-quarter Logan McPherson punt. The ball bounced off Johnson's backside and Darrell Travis recovered on the Marshall 40. The Bulldogs scored four plays later, that time on a 30-yard Dixon run, for a 17-7 lead.

From there, Marshall started leaning on Haig's leg. He hit his first 40-yarder of the season to make it 17-10, LA Tech, then got a chance at a career long with time running out in the first half.

A McPherson punt was downed at the Marshall 32 with 19 seconds to go, but the Herd was able to get to the Bulldogs 28, thanks to an 11-yard Cato-to-Craig-Wilkins connection and a 29-yard Remi Watson run on a draw play. Haig attempted a 45-yarder, but LA Tech coach Skip Holtz called time out as Haig booted it wide. On the second attempt, Marshall moved the spot back a yard for a career-long 46-yard attempt, which he made to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 17-13 at halftime.

"The odds tell you with two time outs that that's the play," LA Tech coach Skip Holtz said. "It didn't work in our favor this time, but I'd play it the same way again."

Haig said he used the first attempt from 46 to loosen up his leg in the cold, rainy weather that had enveloped the Huntington area for the last couple of days.

"I heard the whistle go," he said. "So I took it as a let-loose-type kick. I just wanted to get loose. I saw what I did wrong and I used it for my next attempt. I always like being iced. I personally don't understand that concept. As kickers, punters, holders, we all like to take a practice rep.

Haig added another 40-yarder with 10:26 left in the third quarter to cut Louisiana Tech's lead to 17-16. With that kick, he became the first kicker in C-USA championship game history to hit three field goals of at least 40 yards.

Marshall's defense came up big in Saturday's second half as well. After giving up 738 yards and 67 points last week to Western Kentucky, the Herd's defense bottled up the Bulldogs in the final two quarters. LA Tech gained just 90 yards in the second half and 268 for the game.

Sokol completed just 7 of 20 passes for 72 yards and an interception, was sacked twice and hurried seven times. Dixon finished with 156 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, but gained just 52 yards in the second half.

"We had to (step up)," Hewitt said. "We had a chip on our shoulder because of the way we played last week. We knew we had to play great defense to win the championship."

The Herd got a brief shot in the arm from running back Devon Johnson. Johnson, who hurt his shoulder against Western Kentucky after just three carries, came in during the third quarter and carried four times for 34 yards. He picked up two first downs on the drive that led to Haig's 40-yarder in the third.

Louisiana Tech played Saturday's game without six players, including five starters. Starting left guard Tre Carter, starting right tackle Mitchell Bell, starting defensive tackle Aaron Brown, and starting linebackers Tony Johnson, Terrell Pinson, along with backup WR Tevin King, all were ruled academically ineligible. That eliminated the Bulldogs' second- and third-leading tacklers and two offensive linemen with 41 starts between them.

Watson led Marshall on the ground with 40 yards on nine carries, while Tommy Shuler led the Herd with 84 yards on seven catches.

Every member of Marshall's football team arrived on campus for the first time hearing stories of the triumphs of the past, of the glory days of Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Randy Moss, of the armfuls of conference titles and bowl game after bowl game. This Herd team started the climb back up the mountain, with two C-USA title game appearances and three bowls in the past four seasons.

Saturday's accomplishment, Cato said, was the greatest of them all.

"This is the one goal we've been wanting," Cato said. "Since I walked on campus, this was the main thing on my mind, find a way to get a championship ring. ... We all do a great job of coming out every day in practice and wanting to be great. We want to get better as a team.

"I thank God I have the teammates we have," he continued. "We easily could have put our heads down and thought about last week and just gave up on the season. But the men we have and the coaching staff we have to motivate us at the highest level ... we wanted it."

First report

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall football team, despite four turnovers and a blocked punt, won its first Conference USA title with a 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall kicker Justin Haig hit a C-USA title game record four field goals, and quarterback Rakeem Cato found Deon-Tay McManus for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:50 left for Marshall's first conference title since 2002, when the Thundering Herd beat Toledo at Edwards Stadium for the Mid-American Conference title.

Louisiana Tech had one last chance to respond, but LA Tech Cody Sokol threw an interception to linebacker Neville Hewitt on the first play of that drive to give Marshall the victory.

Cato completed 25 of 46 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Herd will learn its bowl destination tomorrow afternoon.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd hunting for first C-USA title http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209515 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209515 Thu, 4 Dec 2014 21:28:38 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Marshall's football team began its 2014 campaign, the players said the stated goal never was to go undefeated. Sure, the Thundering Herd wanted to win every game. But, as seen now, with only Florida State among the teams without a loss, that quest is ambitious for anyone.

The stated objective among the Herd's players was to win a Conference USA title, something the team has never done.

"We've got to go get it," quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "We've got to go get it. There ain't no other way around it. The talking is done."

Marshall gets another chance at that milestone at noon Saturday, when the Herd hosts Louisiana Tech in the C-USA championship (ESPN2). It's the second straight year the Herd (11-1, 7-1 C-USA) has played for the title, losing at Rice last year in the championship game.

"Your ultimate goal is to win a championship," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "And here we are, playing for a championship here in Huntington. It doesn't get any better than that."

The last time Marshall hosted, and won, a conference title game was 2002, when a Byron Leftwich-led Herd beat Toledo at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the Mid-American Conference championship and reached the GMAC Bowl.

Marshall's could have been even brighter than a lower-tier bowl in Alabama. An undefeated record would have kept the Herd near the top of the list for the Group of Five conference's berth in one of the "New Year's Six" bowl games. The Herd finally cracked the College Football Playoff top 25 last week, entering at No. 24, though Boise State also entered at No. 23.

But Marshall fell 67-66 to Western Kentucky in a wild overtime shootout last Friday, and then fell out of the CFP top 25 as well as the Associated Press sportswriters and Amway coaches polls.

The Herd might still have an outside shot at that slot, but it would need a lot of help, mainly 6-6 Fresno State upsetting the 10-2 and now 22nd-ranked Broncos in the Mountain West title game.

That Western Kentucky loss wasn't easy to get over, fifth-year senior center Chris Jasperse said, but it was mandatory to do so.

"You definitely want to be 12-0," Jasperse said. "That's something you want to strive for. But that's over and done with now. There's no way we can be 12-0 now. We're 11-1 and that's what we are. We've had a lot of good games, and we've struggled the last couple of games. We've found a way to win and this past (Friday), we didn't."

Marshall hosts a Bulldogs (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) team that has won six of its last seven games and knows something about scoring in bunches. LA Tech hammered Rice last Saturday, 76-31, to capture the West Division, lighting up the Owls defense for 677 yards - 269 on the ground and 408 through the air.

Louisiana Tech features several components very familiar to Marshall fans, players and coaches. The Bulldogs' head coach is Skip Holtz, who led East Carolina to a pair of Conference USA titles 2008-09. LA Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was a graduate assistant and position coach at North Carolina State when Holliday was there as associate head coach and receivers coach.

The Bulldogs' offensive coordinator is Tony Petersen, a record-setting Herd quarterback and former co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Holliday. Petersen was instrumental in the growth of Cato, who has said his greatest strides game between his freshman and sophomore seasons, while Petersen was on staff.

Petersen now guides LA Tech quarterback Cody Sokol, though Sokol's growth came in a much different environment. Petersen got Cato as a raw freshman. He got Sokol as a graduate transfer from Iowa with one year of eligibility. Yet that abbreviated time hasn't stopped Sokol from throwing for 3,117 yards and 29 touchdowns.

"Cody came in here with one mindset, and that was to learn the offense as quickly as possible," Petersen said. "He's really been like a professional since he arrived."

Marshall's players remember the sting of watching last season's C-USA title game slip away at Rice Stadium. The ill feelings from last week's WKU loss likely still linger. Yet what the players say fuels them the most is the opportunity for that first conference championship and the chance to cross one major goal off the list.

"This has got to be our game, where everybody's got to step up," Cato said. "There can't be no 'my bads.' Everybody has to put on their big-boy pants, be really locked in and ready to go."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Kambola goes from spectator to starter http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209517 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209517 Thu, 4 Dec 2014 21:25:39 -0500 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - J.P. Kambola's role with Marshall's men's basketball team has transformed significantly during his years with the Thundering Herd.

After freshman and sophomore seasons as a bit player, he became a full-fledged spectator as a junior, then began his senior season as a supporting cast member. Recently, though, he moved into the starting lineup to become even more of an integral member of the Herd's rotation as it prepares for Saturday's 6 p.m. game at the Cam Henderson Center versus Penn State (CBS Sports Network).

In his first two seasons with Marshall, Kambola played a total of 51 minutes and scored a total of 10 points. Last year, though, Marshall (3-4) went without him for the entire season, as the Toronto, Ontario, native sat benched by an NCAA eligibility issue.

A change in coaches and several changes in the roster pushed Kambola higher on the depth chart. Outside of a four-minute stint against Savannah State, he played no fewer than 12 minutes in any of the Herd's first five games as a backup. Then forward Shawn Smith went down with a shoulder injury and Kambola made the first start of his career, against Cleveland State.

He responded with a career-high 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes. He hasn't been bashful in testing his range, either. He's already shot 15 3-pointers this season, making five.

"It's a great feeling," Kambola said of the freedom he's seen on the court. "I kind of have to try not to fall in love with the 3. I have to figure out how to work both aspects of my game, the pick and roll and sometimes shoot the 3. But coach gave me a lot of confidence and it seems to have worked."

Kambola admits he never would have imagined taking long-distance shots in former coach Tom Herrion's offense. But current coach Dan D'Antoni doesn't discourage any of his players from shooting if they can make it. Right now, he's giving Kambola the green light, and he's shooting a team-high 56.3 percent from the floor.

"He's one of the best shooters we have," D'Antoni said. "I know a lot of people look at him and say, eh, he's 6-9, maybe he shouldn't shoot. We'll, it's tough to tell probably your third best shooter not to take one. It's a little odd, but I think you have to go with your strengths, and he's one of our better shooters."

Marshall will face a pretty hot shooter on Saturday in Penn State senior guard D.J. Newbill. The 6-2 Newbill is averaging 24.1 points per game and shooting 47.2 percent from 3-point range. With him at the forefront, the Nittany Lions (7-1) have won their last five games. Penn State's lone loss came in overtime, 106-97, to Charlotte on Nov. 20.

PSU will catch Marshall as it tries to dig itself out of a slump. The Herd has dropped its last four games and is in the middle of a tough three-game stretch versus power-conference opponents. Marshall lost to South Carolina, 77-59, on Monday, then faces No. 16 West Virginia in Charleston on Dec. 14.

As the Herd battles through that trio of opponents, D'Antoni will continue to analyze which lineup will work best with his new scheme.

"None of these guys, even if they're seniors, have done this," he said. "It will take time for that to be coordinated and will take time for me to really make sure who our personnel is going to be."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd players earn C-USA academic honors http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209535 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141204/DM03/141209535 Thu, 4 Dec 2014 20:00:12 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

Two Marshall senior football players were named Thursday to the 15-man Conference USA All-Academic team.

Tight end Eric Frohnapfel and offensive lineman Trevor Mendelson both made the team. The two both are studying for their MBAs. Frohnapfel sports a 4.0 grade point average, while Mendelson has a 3.8 GPA. Frohnapfel has caught 33 passes for 389 yards and five touchdowns, while Mendelson has started 10 games at left tackle and recorded 25 knockdowns.

]]>
MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Attitude the key for Louisiana Tech's turnaround http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141203/DM03/141209640 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141203/DM03/141209640 Wed, 3 Dec 2014 22:50:15 -0500 By Derek Redd CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Louisiana Tech football coach Skip Holtz can point plenty of places to explain his Bulldogs' rapid ascent from a struggling 4-8 squad to Conference USA West Division champions.

There are some new players in the lineup. Those players, and some established veterans, were developed well by Holtz's staff. Yet Holtz said a major factor is an intangible one.

The desire to pull themselves off the canvas did as much as anything to get the Bulldogs into Saturday's noon Conference USA championship game versus Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (ESPN2). Now Louisiana Tech (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) will see if that desire can get them to a conference title in just its second season in C-USA.

"What we talked about this year was being a work in progress, making sure we continued to get better and develop each and every week," Holtz said. "I think we took much more pride in our development and progress than we did just the result of winning and losing."

The Bulldogs were used to winning, and did plenty of it during last two seasons of former coach Sonny Dykes' tenure. LA Tech had won 17 games in that span. But Dykes left for California and 32 graduating players followed him out the door.

That left a pretty sparse cupboard for Holtz and his new staff. Louisiana Tech had to replace 10 of 11 offensive starters and it showed. In that 4-8 season, the Bulldogs averaged just 19.2 points per game.

Holtz, who won back-to-back C-USA titles in 2008-09 at the helm of East Carolina, felt he still could contend at Louisiana Tech, and set about retooling the program to get there. In came a lot of new faces that made an immediate impact.

Junior college transfer Kirby Wixon became the Bulldogs' starting center. He enlisted a pair of graduate transfers - former Iowa quarterback Cody Sokol and former Illinois defensive end Houston Bates. Both jumped into the starting lineup.

The players doubled down on their efforts in offseason conditioning. Safety Kentrell Brice said those workouts in the humid Louisiana summer strengthened the team's bond.

"It brings us all together in different ways," Brice said. "When you're running in 100-degree weather and the turf is even hotter and you're tired, everyone picks each other up and says, 'Keep running, keep running. Just push as hard as you can.'"

When the season began, Holtz maintained that "work in progress" message, especially after a brutal start that saw the Bulldogs play four of the first five games on the road, including trips to Oklahoma and Auburn. LA Tech came out of that five-game streak at 2-3. Yet when the Bulldogs got into the meat of their C-USA schedule, they flourished, winning six of their last seven and pummeling Rice, 76-31, to secure the West Division.

There is balance on offense. Sokol has passed for 3,117 yards and 29 touchdowns, while running back Kenneth Dixon has gained 1,080 yards and 18 touchdowns. Dixon said it's been Wixon's group up front that has made the difference in Louisiana Tech's offense, which averages 38.8 point per game.

"We do a lot of things right, but our offensive line play has just been a lot better this year," he said. "They've allowed the quarterback to sit back in the pocket and make reads and open up some holes and allow me to get in the hole and try to make some plays."

Defensively, Louisiana Tech leads the nation with 36 takeaways, 24 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. It's been an unselfish nature that has pushed the team forward, Holtz said. Players may not see the abundance of snaps they were used to, but they've committed themselves to making the most of the playing time they earn.

"There are so many variables to make this work," Holtz said, "and I think the attitude of this team and the work ethic of this team and the job this staff has done to get the players to buy into their role have been three key elements of why we're here."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

]]>