Marshall enjoys storybook victory over Notre Dame

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The path to one of Marshall’s biggest wins was paved by picking up transfer portal talent, magic tricks and a sophomore coach’s belief that a Sun Belt Conference team can be as good as any opponent, especially a legendary giant like Notre Dame.

Fifteen games into his career at Marshall, coach Charles Huff’s Thundering Herd became the talk of college football with a 26-21 win Saturday over 20.5-point favorite Fighting Irish.

Crowds of fans, some of them crying, greeted Marshall’s team bus as it returned to the Huntington campus on Saturday night. Huff responded to 350 text messages. Marshall’s new chairman, Brad Smith, former CEO of software company Intuit, has been congratulated by executives across Silicon Valley.

It was Marshall’s second victory against a Top 10 team. The other also came on the road, in 2013 against No. 6 Kansas State.

Gone is Notre Dame’s streak of 80 consecutive weeks in the Associated Press poll and 42 straight wins over unranked opponents.

“Phenomenal weekend,” Huff said. “Not just for our football team and our players, but for West Virginia State and this community, and everyone who bleeds green. I think it also gives college football its kick, a boost, energy. I think that’s college football.”

And it’s still going. The local newspaper, The Herald-Dispatch, is busy selling reprints of Sunday’s front page featuring a photo with the headline “Shocker in South Bend.”

Pageviews on Marshall’s website at the time of the game were more than triple those on a typical Saturday. Traffic to the university’s admissions pages on Saturday and Monday were both higher than at any time in previous months.

After a visit Monday from Governor Jim Justice, himself a Marshall graduate, it was time to get back to work.

“Obviously we have to move on,” quarterback Henry Colombi said. “But it’s great to be able to reflect on what we’ve done. Our community is still buzzing about it and I think it’s going to be like that for a while, when you have a big win like this in school history. So I think that’s great.

There was more electricity on Tuesday when running back Rasheen Ali returned to training for Marshall. One of the top freshmen in the nation a year ago when he rushed for 1,400 yards, Ali took an undisclosed personal leave from the team ahead of the season.

It’s uncertain whether Ali will play when Marshall (2-0) travels to Bowling Green (0-2) on Saturday. When he does, it will add to the burden of concern for opposing defenses. His replacement, Khalan Laborn, is ninth in the FBS with 265 yards, matching almost all of his production when he was at Florida State.

Other transfers that have paid immediate dividends include Colombi, who has played at Texas Tech for the past two years and leads the nation in completion percentage at 85.1%.

Huff is in his first head coaching job and he is the first black football head coach at Marshall. To know Huff is to understand that when he’s not in business mode on the court, he’s lightweight. His laughter and smile are often contagious. It celebrates the great efforts of its players.

During the last day of summer camp, Huff brought in magician Carl Michael for a team bonding event. To say it was a success would be an understatement.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Colombi said. “I still think about it today.”

Michael also made Huff dance for his players.

“He can dance better than me,” Colombi said.

Turns out the session was a good transition into the season.

“If they had that energy on Saturday that they had for the magic show, we would have won by 50,” Huff said. “No question.”

In reality, this exhibit had a higher purpose.

“What you need to do is show your players that you are real,” Huff said. “That means sometimes you have to be tough on them. This means sometimes you have to put your arm around them. This means that sometimes you have to laugh and joke with them. In any organization, when you see that your leader is real, you have a deeper connection, you have a deeper understanding, you have a deeper appreciation for all that is involved in what comes from there.

Huff was associate head coach and running backs coach under Nick Saban in Alabama. His hiring to Marshall in January 2021 came just weeks after the Crimson Tide routed Ohio State for the national championship.

After being hired, Huff visited a cemetery in Huntington where a memorial honors the victims of the worst disaster in American sports history. It gave him insight into the community’s unwavering commitment and passion for a football program that nearly came to an end when a plane crash in 1970 killed 75 players, coaches, fans and flight crew.

Smith, the college president who grew up near the crash site in nearby Kenova, referred to a quote from Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry when describing Huff: “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear. , which makes you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you always knew you could be.

“The way I see him speaking to our community, to our university and to every student-athlete as he sees who you are and who you are capable of being, he makes it his life’s purpose to connect those two,” Smith said.

Huff teaches his players to stay balanced and prepare the same way, regardless of the opponent. Asked how Marshall can hedge against a potential disappointment at Bowling Green, Huff’s response was direct and simple.

“Is their field 100 yards by 53 and a third? Do they have goal posts? Houf replied “If they have those two things, everything will be fine.”

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