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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 9, 2006

By Al Myatt

History still in the making for ECU, Marshall

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Despite meeting just seven times in football, Marshall and East Carolina have quite a bit of history between them.

More history will be made Saturday as the Thundering Herd visits Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at 1 p.m. for a matchup with significant implications in the Conference USA East Division race.

This will be only the second trip for the Herd to Greenville since the plane crash that took the lives of 75 people on Marshall's trip home from a 17-14 loss at ECU on Nov. 14, 1970.

That tragedy and the rebuilding aftermath for the Herd football program have become the basis for a movie, "We are Marshall," which is due for release in coming weeks. A documentary, "Remembering Marshall," aired on ECU-TV on Wednesday night.

Officials from each school will be on hand for a ceremony at the stadium at 10:45 on Saturday morning in which a memorial plaque will be unveiled in honor of those involved in the catastrophe. East Carolina chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard and Marshall
president Dr. Stephen Kopp will be the featured speakers.

The general public is invited to attend the ceremony outside the visiting team entrance gate adjacent to West Berkely Drive across from Elmhurst Elementary School. All stadium gates will open at 11:00 a.m.

The Pirates first met Marshall in 1967 in Huntington, WV, with ECU's single wing offense under legendary coach Clarence Stasavich producing a 29-13 win in the final game of an 8-2 season. The Pirates prevailed 49-20 the following season in Greenville.

Marshall whipped the Pirates 38-7 in 1969 in the final road game of Stasavich's coaching career.

The 1970 game was decided on a field goal by ECU's Tony Guzzo.

Years later, Guzzo, who went on to become a successful college baseball coach, would say that he could still see faces of the Marshall players inside their helmets from that game.

That night, with bad weather resulting in poor visibility, the plane carrying many of the Marshall players and coaches crashed on a mountainside on its landing descent near Huntington. Many ECU players were out celebrating the win when word came of the crash. The news was stunning and no one felt like partying.

The teams didn't meet again until 1978 when the Herd made a return trip to Greenville. Marshall had a linebacker named Mike Hamrick, who later became athletic director at ECU from 1995 to 2003. The Pirates won that game, 45-0.

"You talk about an eerie feeling," Hamrick would later say. "Everybody who got on that plane knew the significance of that flight."

Hamrick was AD at ECU when the series resumed again in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, AL, in 2001. In a game that still has many Pirate fans scratching their heads, the Herd managed to rally from a 38-8 deficit at the half to top ECU 64-61 in double overtime. The teams combined for a whopping 1,141 yards of total offense.

The highest scoring game in bowl history featured quarterbacks Byron Leftwich for Marshall and David Garrard for East Carolina. Leftwich threw an incredible 70 times in that game, completing 41 for 576 yards. The duo has continued their competition in terms of vying for playing time for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Garrard recently supplanted his old bowl adversary for the starting job.

ECU came back from a smaller deficit (0-13) for a 34-29 win at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington last season. It was the first time Skip Holtz of the Pirates and Mark Snyder of the Herd had been on opposite sidelines as head coaches.

Holtz was offensive corodinator for South Carolina and Snyder was linebackers coach at Ohio State on Jan. 1, 2002, when the Gamecocks took a 31-28 Outback Bowl victory over the Buckeyes.

There are elements in the Marshall-East Carolina series that are unmatched in college football. The renewal brings together two programs with second-year head coaches whose teams each have 3-game winning streaks and designs on a conference division crown.

Each team controls its own fate in terms of those aspirations and the situation is this: win out in league games and play on national television in C-USA's second championship game on Dec. 1.

The Pirates (5-4, 4-2 C-USA) will add the emotion of Senior Day. Veteran's Day promotions may push attendance to capacity (43,000). ECU has averaged 36,327 fans this season.

"Crowds have been great," Holtz said. "The people in Greenville are accustomed to winning and we've been down for a couple of years. Now it's kind of getting back on that track where we've given them a little bit to get excited about. They're really salivating."

Snyder has witnessed the transformation that's taken place from his video evaluations of the Pirates.

"Skip's done a great job and you can see it on the film," Snyder said. "They're playing hard. They're playing well. He's doing some good things on both sides of the ball. I think that team has taken on his personality a little bit. ... 21 (ECU running back Brandon Fractious), I don't know where he came from. We were impressed with 5 (Chris Johnson) last year."

Marshall (4-5, 3-2) has its own impressive running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, who is averaging 125.1 yards rushing per game. Holtz said the Pirates can't load up to stop him because of the effectiveness of the Herd's passing attack.

There are a number of intriguing subplots as we head into Chapter 8 of the series in which ECU holds a 5-2 lead. Parity and balance have become the buzzwords in C-USA.

"Greg Hudson, our defensive coordinator, told me when we came into this league, he said this league is like NASCAR," Holtz said. "Everybody has the same size engine. It's just who does the best job driving it that week."

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02/23/2007 12:30:52 AM


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