The Voice of West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — News and notes from around West Virginia as the high school football postseason begins Friday.
Martinsburg and Cabell Midland protecting perfection in Class AAA
The beat rolls on at Martinsburg where the top-seeded Bulldogs have extended their state record win streak to 52 games. Their closest margin of victory was in their 35-point win at Salem, Va. Martinsburg (10-0) will host No. 16 Preston (4-6) Saturday afternoon. “Our guys know what to expect,” said Martinsburg head coach David Walker. “They expect to be here and they expect to keep moving on. It is not arrogance, it is just confidence that they have. They go to work and they understand what is at stake.”
Cabell Midland (10-0) has successfully navigated through the gauntlet of the Mountain State Athletic Conference. The Knights defeated Spring Valley, Hurricane and Capital by seven points or less in September. They cruised to victory over their final five games and will face a rematch with No. 15 Riverside (4-6) Saturday. “It is tough,” said Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons. “With the teams we play, to overcome a lot of things that we have been through this year with injuries… they have been resilient.”
Spring Valley seeks fourth consecutive trip to Wheeling
While Martinsburg is seeking their fourth straight trip to the Super 6, Spring Valley is looking to do so same. The No. 3 Timberwolves (9-1) will host No. 14 Hurricane (4-6) to open up their postseason run. “Our senior class has played twelve extra weeks than everybody else,” said Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess. “That’s like having a redshirt season. Those kids have had quality practice time over the last three years. And it showed this year when we had to start playing younger kids.”
Photos by Marcus Constantino
Parkersburg South and Musselman could stage quality quarterfinal
If they can avoid first round upsets, No. 5 Musselman (8-2) will visit No. 4 Parkersburg South (9-1) next weekend in the quarterfinal round. The Applemen will host No. 12 Parkersburg (5-5) while the Patriots welcome No. 13 South Charleston (4-6) to Erickson Stadium.
“This is the fourth straight season we have finished in the top five going into the playoffs,” said Musselman head coach Brian Thomas. “We are on a pretty good run right now which says a lot for our players and our staff.”
PSHS rebounded from their first loss to Wheeling Park in Week 10 by defeating city-rival Parkersburg. “I thought our kids re-channelled their focus after the (Wheeling) Park game,” said Parkersburg South head coach Nathan Tanner. “We had a great week of practice and the kids came out and hit on all cylinders.”
Preston faces long road trip, long odds in opener
The Preston Knights are making their first postseason appearance since 2008. They will visit Martinsburg on Saturday. PHS head coach Jonathan Tennant is hopeful that a playoff berth can be a building block for a program that has struggled with low numbers of players in recent years.
“We dressed 36 kids in our last game against Brooke,” Tennant said. “That’s not enough to have practice. It is not enough to have a consistent junior varsity program. We hope to get ten or fifteen more kids out to the program. And if we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Polar Bears ready for return to ‘Thunderdome’
Class AA No. 1 Fairmont Senior (10-0) owns the state’s second-longest win streak at 24 games. They will host No. 16 Winfield (7-3) Friday. “For a while now, we have called the playoffs ‘Thunderdome’,” said Fairmont Senior head coach Nick Bartic. “Because two men enter and one man leaves in terms of your season. We approach it as a round-by-round type of contest.”
Poca’s remarkable ride continues
From 2012-2017, Poca won five games. They are 19-2 since. The No. 3 Dots (10-0) will host No. 14 North Marion (7-3) Saturday in the opening round. “There’s a lot of goals we have accomplished so far,” said Poca head coach Seth Ramsey. “Winning the (Cardinal) Conference and being able to go undefeated for the first time since 1978, we’ve accomplished a lot but we still have to keep our minds where they need to be.”
Similar styles for Keyser and Liberty Harrison
No. 5 Keyser (9-1) will host No. 12 Liberty Harrison (8-2) and both teams feature run-heavy, ball control offenses. “In a day and age where everybody is spread out and in the shotgun, teams like us and Keyser are getting a little bit more few and far between,” said Liberty head coach A.J. Harman. “I think it will be fun and it will be a challenge to see how tough we are.”
“They run Stick-I, so we have seen that before,” said Keyser head coach Sean Biser. “They’ve got some nice backs and they come off the ball really hard.”
Bridgeport posts seventh consecutive regular season with at least nine wins
No. 2 Bridgeport (9-1) finds themselves in a familiar position with the opportunity to host multiple postseason home games at Wayne Jamison Field. The Indians will host No. 15 Lewis County (7-3) Friday. “I don’t think we played as well as we probably should have early in the year,” said Bridgeport head coach John Cole. “A one-loss season is a really good season and I am proud of them. But all that is in the past now.”
Photo by William Wotring
Class A defending champs ready for road challenges
For the second time in three seasons, two-time defending state champion Wheeling Central Catholic (6-4) enters the playoffs as the No. 10 seed. The Maroon Knights have played a challenging schedule featuring several top teams from Eastern Ohio. “Seeding can be a little bit deceiving,” said Wheeling Central head coach Mike Young. “I like our chances in terms of the schedule we played because it helps us prepare to play in this postseason.”
Central visits No. 7 Tolsia (7-3) Saturday afternoon.
Modesitt making an impact at Williamstown
No. 5 Williamstown (8-2) is once again a higher-seeded team in the Class A playoffs. The Yellowjackets will host Tug Valley (6-3) in their opener. First-year starting quarterback Brayden Modesitt won the job in training camp and has progressed throughout the year.
“We trust our quarterback a little bit more,” said Williamstown head coach Terry Smith. “He really didn’t play a whole lot before this. Now we are ten games into the season and so he is not really a junior or a first-year quarterback. We have let him change plays at the line of scrimmage a little bit more and let him throw it a little bit more.”
2018 semifinalist Midland Trail fighting injuries
Midland Trail won their first twelve games in 2018 before falling to Williamstown in the semifinals. The Patriots (6-4) earned the No. 9 seed this year and they will travel to face No. 8 East Hardy (7-3). Trail graduated a large senior class a year ago and Frank Isaacs’ club has been beset by numerous injuries this year.
“We have had eight starters out from the beginning of the season,” Isaacs said. “We will go into the playoffs probably short six starters. So it is frustrating. At the same time, you have to admire the kids that have been stepping up. A lot of Class A teams at this point would love to be where we are at.”
Photo by Marcus Constantino
Route 50 rivals lead Class A field
Class A No. 1 Doddridge County (10-0) has won 28 consecutive regular season games and they have the opportunity to host as many as three postseason games at the brand new Cline Stansberry Stadium. The Bulldogs will host No. 16 Madonna (6-3-1) Saturday.
“It is a good feeling,” said Doddridge County head coach Bobby Burnside. “The players and coaches have worked real hard to get in this position. The regular season is over so just like everyone else, it is perform or be eliminated.”
Fourteen miles to the west on Route 50, No. 2 Ritchie County (9-1) enjoyed their best regular season since going 10-0 in 1995. From 2014 to 2017, the Rebels had a stretch where they won 2 of 34 games. In their second season under head coach Rick Haught, Ritchie has posted a mark of 16-5.
“Some kids just know how to win more than others,” Haught said. “That seems to be what we have going for us right now. They are a confident group but they are not a cocky group. The Rebels will host No. 15 South Harrison (6-4) Friday.
Greenbrier West revived with return of first head coach
The most dramatic turnaround season in the state has been authored by Greenbrier West. After winning just two games in 2018, the No. 4 Cavaliers posted a 9-1 record this fall. They will host No. 13 Tygarts Valley (7-3), who has qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
After fifteen years away from coaching, Toby Harris returned to GWHS. He led the Cavaliers to their first postseason appearance in five years. Harris launched the program and was their first head coach when the school opened in 1968.
“I am having a good time,” Harris said. “There’s no pressure on me at my age. I have been retired for fifteen years and saw this opportunity and thought I might try it. The Good Lord has been good to me and my health is good. So I have been having a good time.”
Photo courtesy of Greenbrier West Athletics (@GWHSCavaliers)
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PRINCETON, W.Va. — A McDowell County man has been charged with 10 counts each of incest and sexual assault of a female teen.
Everett Eugene Whitt, 46, of Cucumber was taken into custody by West Virginia State Police, who began an investigation after interviewing the alleged victim, a relative of Whitt, who told authorities she had been assaulted by him on multiple occasions between January 2016 and October 2019.
The teen reportedly said Whitt had told her he wanted her to become pregnant.
Whitt is being held at Southern Regional Jail on a $75,000 cash-only bond.
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Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH — West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins should know much more about his team by the end of Friday.
The Mountaineers and Pittsburgh meet for the 187th time on the hardwood with tip-off at the Petersen Events Center set for 7 p.m. The contest, which marks the first November meeting between the two schools, will air on ESPNU.
West Virginia (1-0) plays for the first time in a week following a 94-84 home win over Akron in the season opener.
“We need to play well against a Power Five school and get a win under our belt,” Huggins said.
Pitt, meanwhile, is off to a 2-1 start that features a win over Florida State, a loss to Nicholls State and Tuesday’s 71-57 victory over Robert Morris.
The Mountaineers are seeking their fourth consecutive win in the series, something they haven’t accomplished since the end of Huggins’ playing career in Morgantown. Friday’s game marks the third in a four-game series that runs through next season.
“We’re just worried about getting one,” Huggins said. “I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that stuff.
“If it continues, it’s going to go back to being the rivalry that it was and that’s fun for both schools and both fan bases.”
The Panthers’unusual start includes a quality 63-61 win over Florida State in the opener and a 75-70 loss to the Colonels.
In his first season at Pitt, junior guard Ryan Murphy leads the team with 17 points per game and has made 9-of-19 three-pointers.
“Murphy really stretches the defense,” Huggins said.
Sophomore guards Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson follow with averages of 15 and 10 points, respectively.
“McGowens played terrific in the second half against Robert Morris,” Huggins noted. “He did everything — rebounded it, drove the ball to the basket and he was really, really good. Twenty-five (points) and eight (rebounds) is a pretty good day.”
Six-foot-10 junior Terrell Brown is the team’s fourth leading scorer at 9.7 points. Brown blocked 60 shots a year ago and should be a formidable challenge for the Mountaineers’ post players.
West Virginia sophomore Derek Culver (6-10) tied for the team lead with 16 points in the season opener, although heralded freshman Oscar Tshiebwe (6-9) was held to five points and five rebounds in only 12 minutes.
Senior Jermaine Haley also scored 16 against the Zips, while sophomore Emmitt Matthews finished with 13 in the win.
Perhaps the biggest brightest spot for the Mountaineers in the opener was freshman guard Miles McBride, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Despite starting against Akron, sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe played only 10 minutes. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, reserve guards Chase Harler and Brandon Knapper each scored nine points, while Taz Sherman added eight in his West Virginia debut.
“We’ve watched a lot of film — a lot more film than what we normally do of ourselves,” Huggins said. “Your good things really stand out on film as well as your transgressions. They got a chance to see the things they did well and a chance to see what they didn’t do very well. That really helps them.”
West Virginia is after its first road win since Feb. 20, 2018, at Baylor. The Mountaineers finished 0-10 in road games last season.
This will be just the second game for West Virginia compared to the fourth for Pitt.
“We basically have three games in,” Huggins said. “We had a good scrimmage against Penn Sate and our Duquesne scrimamge had 9,500 people there. I think we’re OK.”
The Mountaineers lead the all-time series, 98-88.
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West Virginia is just dipping its toe into charter schools.
The state Board of Education is putting out for public comment proposed rules on how charter schools will operate.
Those rules run 47 pages, single-spaced, which seems like a lot considering one of the supposed advantages of a charter school is that it can be more innovative by operating outside much of the bureaucracy of public ed.
I suppose even innovation, by government standards, can be complicated.
Nevertheless, this is a very modest beginning for charters. The legislation passed this year allows for the creation of only three charter schools starting July 1, 2020, and then three more every three years.
The teacher unions are furious. They argue, among other things, that the charters will drain money from traditional public schools. It is true that 90 percent of the per-pupil funding will follow the student to the charter. However, it is highly likely that any charter will be awarded to an existing school.
Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, said on Talkline Thursday that his organization plans to sue to stop charters.
“We have felt the citizens of West Virginia were shut out, were not listened to,” Albert said, adding that he believes charters are unconstitutional. He wants a statewide vote on whether to allow charters.
I don’t understand that argument.
First, the state Constitution specifies that “The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools” and that “the general supervision of schools of the State shall be vested in the West Virginia board of education” as prescribed by law.
That gives the legislature and the state board broad authority to run the schools.
The AFT may be hanging their legal hat on the constitutional provision that prevents the creation of an “independent free school district” without the consent of the school district as expressed by a majority of voters voting on the question.”
However, the legislation says specifically that charters are public schools that are authorized by the county board of education.
Add in that courts are typically reluctant to extend their reach into the authority of the other two co-equal branches of government and you have what amounts to a legal longshot by the union. Of course, the teachers are influential, and they may be able to find a circuit judge to carry their water, at least temporarily.
There is plenty of research—much by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—on the effectiveness of charter schools and the results are mixed. It’s a great bell curve; some students do better in a charter, a few do worse and most are about the same.
According to the most recent studies by CREDO, New Mexico and Pennsylvania charter school students perform at about the same level as those in traditional public schools. However, Maryland charter students “experience strong learning gains” in both reading and math.
The recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress test results show West Virginia public school students performing below the national average in fourth and eighth grade reading and math. They also show students losing ground in three of the four categories.
The annual state Department of Education Balanced Scorecard also shows poor student performances in math, English language arts and even school attendance.
This extremely cautious entry into charters empowers a few county school boards, professional educators and concerned parents to try something different. That’s the kind of innovation and motivation we should embrace, not fight tooth and nail.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia Democratic Party will have an opportunity to hear from the party’s candidates for governor and two U.S. senators at the annual Roosevelt-Kennedy Dinner on Friday.
The dinner, to be held at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, will feature remarks from development specialist Jody Murphy, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, activist Stephen Smith and Boone County Sen. Ron Stollings.
The dinner’s keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont..; Tester began his third term in January, having won last November with 50.3% of the vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and state party leaders are also expected to speak. The dinner is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
Before the event, the West Virginia Republican Party will hold a rally outside of the venue in support of President Donald Trump.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even if offensive line was one of West Virginia’s strengths this season, it would be one of the primary points of emphasis in recruiting heading into next season.
The Mountaineers are losing both starting tackles to graduation, creating a pair of immediate needs. But given the struggles of the unit, there is an even stronger sense of urgency to bringing new bodies into the fold.
West Virginia ranks 128th in the country running the ball. Thanks to the play of senior tackles Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline, the team is faring far better in pass protection, ranking 33rd with 14 sacks allowed.
“It comes back to pure strength,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “It takes a lot more power to move people around then it does to slow them or stop them. We’ve got good feet and we move well, so we run the outside zone decent. We pass protect pretty good. But to move people around, you need power at every position. Having that power is the biggest thing.”
For the most part, power is built in the offseason.
“It comes with age, having some older guys,” Moore said. “Look at K-State — five redshirt seniors on the O-line. That’s what we’re trying to get to, not plugging and playing.”
Depth has been another issue.
Since right guard Josh Sills underwent season-ending surgery, only seven offensive linemen have seen serious playing time.
Offensive line coach Matt Moore has been trying to get the team’s true freshmen to a point where they can contribute, but that time may not arrive until the spring.
“We’re developing some younger guys,” Moore said. “The two young tackles, Brandon Yates and Parker Moorer, are really coming along. I’m excited to see them grow and add to the guys that we can bring in mid-year. We’re going to keep adding to this thing and recruit to get better and better.”
Moore said the plan is to bring in four offensive linemen in this year’s recruiting class with the possibility of adding a fifth.
Chris Mayo, one of the team’s three four-star commitments, is one of those players. So is Fairmont Senior’s Zach Frazier, a two-way player in high school who will be brought to WVU to play center. Junior college tackle Jacob Gamble is also committed to the Mountaineers.
In a roundabout way, WVU head coach Neal Brown brought up one of the factors in this year’s lack of offensive line depth. Asked separately about the importance of in-state recruiting on his Thursday night radio show, he noted that top two recruits in West Virginia last year are already starting for Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
“We have to get the FBS talent in the state,” Brown said. “A year ago, there was two kids now starting for Power Five programs as freshmen we weren’t able to get. We have to be like Georgia, Alabama, on and on. We have to sign the top kids in West Virginia to be a championship-level program.
“Let’s say there’s three Power Five players on average. Let’s say we sign them every year, that’s 15 in your program. Let’s say there’s another 8-10 walk-ons that earn scholarships like Dante Bonamico. Now more than a quarter of your team is from your home state. If we get to that, we get this thing rolling.”
Spring Valley’s Doug Nester has started seven games at right guard for Virginia Tech this season. Huntington’s Darnell Wright has started the past four games for Tennessee — two at right guard and two at right tackle. If those two were in the Mountaineers’ lineup, odds are there would be a different conversation about WVU’s offensive line at the moment.
Esdale the arm
Ben Queen/USA Today Sports
West Virginia has a recent history of turning quarterbacks into wide receivers, as seen in the form of David Sills and William Crest Jr.
After last Saturday, some WVU fans may want to see them try the same concept in reverse.
Wide receiver Isaiah Esdale looked like a pretty capable thrower against Texas Tech, completing a 24-yard trick pass to Kennedy McKoy for a touchdown. And as it turns out, that isn’t even close to the most impressive thing he’s able to do.
When Brown searched for receivers and running backs who could throw the ball downfield in preseason camp, Esdale ran away with the competition.
“One day we were out on the field and he asked everybody to stay after and throw the ball,” Esdale said. “I messed up on a couple throws. But then at the end of practice, I threw it from the opposite 40 and hit the goal post twice. So then they were like ‘Yeah… we’re going to use him.'”
That means that Esdale has the ability to throw 70 yards on a dime if needed. Esdale has a post-practice habit of engaging in competitions with the actual quarterbacks that are reminiscent of the old Quarterback Challenge competitions that used to air on TV.
That ended up being the scenario which won him the trick-play job rather than the actual tryout.
“I always mess with the quarterbacks to see who can throw further and who can hit what,” Esdale said. “Me and Trey Lowe were doing it and I hit it twice, right on the spot.”
West Virginia will go with what can be described as an icy look at Kansas State, wearing blue helmets, white jerseys and white pants.
Fortunately, there is no white stuff in the forecast as the kickoff temperature is expected to be in the neighborhood of 58 degrees.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) November 14, 2019
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The union that represents Huntington firefighters ratified the latest contract offer from the city.
The contract between the city and the International Association of Firefighters Local 289 will result in a 12% pay raise over three years and health care coverage at current cost levels. The contract also gives the city more management flexibility.
“We are proud of the partnerships we have developed with the unions that represent city employees,” Mayor Steve Williams said. “We are affirming that labor and management can come together to ensure certainty and security for our employees and certainty for the services that are provided to our residents.”
The Huntington City Council will next have to approve the contract. Councilmembers have already approved contracts with Fraternal Order of Police Gold Star Lodge 65 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 598 this year.
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OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. — A former Ohio County student and the Ohio County Schools Board of Education have reached a settlement connected to a relationship between the individual and a former teacher.
Christopher Birch filed a lawsuit in April against Elizabeth Harbet and the Ohio County Schools Board of Education, accusing Harbert of sexually and mentally abusing him. Ohio County Circuit Court Judge Jason Cuomo dismissed Harbert from the case, citing a statute of limitations.
Harbert previously taught Birch at Bridge Street Middle School and Wheeling Park High School. The relationship between Harbert and Birch began in 2005 when she was 28 years old and he was 15. According to a criminal complaint, the relationship resulted in four children.
As part of the agreement, the board denies all liability.
“Mr. Birch is grateful and pleased the matter has resolved and is thankful for all the public support he received while the case was proceeding,” Birch’s attorney Teresa Toriseva said. “Mr. Birch is anxious to move forward and will have no further comment on these matters.”
Harbert agreed to an Alford plea in August and sentenced to between one and five years in prison for third-degree sexual assault.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin announced several steps following a use of force incident in October involving members of the Charleston Police Department, she stressed more actions from everyone moving forward: engaging in communication and coming together.
The mayor’s comments came during a chaotic set of events on Thursday at Charleston City Hall that led to a joint press conference with councilmembers, Charleston Police Department (CPD) officers, Concerned Clergy Coalition of Charleston members, and Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) members.
“Our phones need to start ringing again, we need to break bread with one another, we need have coffees with one another,” Goodwin told MetroNews. “It sounds simple but it’s not. It’s critical, though. It’s necessary if we are going to understand what each other is feeling and what we need to move forward.”
Among Goodwin’s actions, in a response to the clergy’s letter sent at a recent public forum, CPD Chief Opie Smith has referred the incident to the FBI for an independent investigation. The FBI could refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney or the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office.
The actions come on the heels of pressure from the clergy and members of the public to do more following CPD allowing two officers to return to work from administrative leave after a use of force investigation.
An Oct. 14 incident captured on video showed Patrol Officer Carlie McCoy struggling to arrest 27-year-old Freda Gilmore outside of a Family Dollar store on Virginia Street West. Patrolman Joshua Mena punched Gilmore several times in the head.
Other actions taken by the city include working with police leadership to review policing policies, and she intends to create a Charleston Police Citizen Advisory Council. The body will be made up of Charleston residents and act as a liaison between the police department and the city.
At the public forum on November 5, the clergy requested the FBI investigate the matter but also called for McCoy and Mena to be placed back on suspension.
Rev. Marlon Collins, Pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Charleston and member of the clergy said he had mixed emotions with the response.
“I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t completely satisfied but we did get some good dialogue done today (Thursday),” he told MetroNews. “The groundwork has been laid to get some change instituted and get the people and police officers safe.”
And while Collins wasn’t thrilled with how the joint presser abruptly ended after a back-and-forth between the crowd and some officers, he said there are more opportunities ahead because they came together.
“Without this forum today (Thursday), the members of the Charleston Clergy Coalition wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet who we met today,” he said. “We are going to start a dialogue and start getting some understanding with the different groups. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure this does not happen again however we change policy or personnel.”
Collins referencing his group’s meeting with the state FOP. Initially, there were supposed to be two separate press conferences Thursday afternoon: The state FOP and some councilmembers with CPD and Goodwin’s with the city’s response to the clergy.
Goodwin, state FOP members, and clergy members decided to come together and speak as a group in the council chambers, which the mayor thought was the best idea. She said when it came down to it, all parties involved realized that they want to support the police while having better communication with community members.
“It can’t be an us versus them. It can’t be and that’s why we said enough,” she said.
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— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A possible preview of the upcoming Conference USA Football championship is on tap in Huntington Friday night. The conference’s East Division leader, Marshall, hosts the West Division leader and only unbeaten Louisiana Tech.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m., at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and will be shown nationally by CBS Sports Network.
Marshall (6-3, 4-2) is coming off its second bye week of the 2019 season following a 20-7 win at Rice on Nov. 2 that marked the Herd’s fourth straight victory.
Tech (8-1, 5-0) won its eighth straight game last Saturday, a 52-17 home triumph over North Texas, the West Division preseason favorite.
Marshall and Louisiana Tech have met only twice and the series is tied at a win apiece.
Here are some things to watch for in Friday’s game:
1 — Slowing the Bulldogs
Marshall’s defense faces a major challenge in finding a way to stop a Louisiana Tech offense that is among the nation’s best, ranking 17th as compared to Marshall’s rank of No. 50.
The offensive numbers for the Bulldogs are impressive — 38.1 points per game average, 479.1 yards per game and 292 passing yards per contest.
Tech has scored 35 or more points in six games this season and has scored at least 40 points in the last four games. The attack is led by fifth-year senior quarterback J’Mar Smith, who has thrown for 2,483 yards and 14 touchdowns along with only four interceptions.
Marshall’s potent pass rush must cause Smith problems, not allowing him to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet.
Also key for the MU defenders is slowing down Tech running back Justin Henderson, who has more than 700 yards to go with 14 touchdowns on the year.
Opportunities will abound for several Herd playmaking defenders such as Channing Hames, Omari Cobb, Darius Hodge, Jamare Edwards, Tavante Beckett and Tyler Brown.
2 — Converting in the red zone
Louisiana Tech’s defense is ranked seventh in Conference USA, two spots below Marshall, but the Bulldogs have shown a toughness in halting teams in the red-zone, allowing opponents to score on just 60 percent of their red-zone opportunities (21 scores in 35 chances). Tech is third in the nation in that category.
Marshall has converted on 22 of 29 red zone opportunities into scores, including 15 for touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Isaiah Green has been able to hit long touchdown throws to receivers such as Armani Levias, Willie Johnson and Talik Keaton in recent games, but Tech’s defense might make it tougher to hit high-impact plays.
That puts the pressure of MU’s veteran offensive line and running back Brenden Knox to produce when red-zone opportunities arrive.
3 — Emotion of the 75
Can Marshall’s football team ride the emotion of the 49th anniversary of the 1970 plane crash into a win?
The Herd hasn’t lost the anniversary game over the past six years.
In those games, the team dons black uniforms and player helmets contain the number 75 on one side in honor of the number of crash victims — and the 1970 MU helmet logo on the other side.
Emotion can only take you so far, so it will be up to MU head coach Doc Holliday and his staff to get the Herd ready for a fast start against the Bulldogs.
A big concern for MU will be not repeating the post bye week doldrums shown earlier this season. After a 2-1 start with wins over VMI and Ohio and loss at nationally-ranked Boise State, Marshall was off the week of Sept. 21, but followed the break with ugly losses to Cincinnati and Middle Tennessee.
With a Conference USA East Division title and possible opportunity to host the league’s title game on the line, there’s plenty of motivation for Marshall to combine emotion and effort into a strong performance.
All Marshall football letterman have been invited to be a part of pregame activities on Friday night as an encouragement prior to the game … Knox is putting together a special year, as he’s scored in six of Marshall’s nine games and totaled up four 100-yard rushing games. His top performance was the 220 yards gained in a win at FAU, allowing him to join Ron Lear, Ron Darby, Chris Parker and Ahmad Bradshaw as Herd backs with multiple 200-yard rushing games (Knox gained 204 yards last season in a loss at Virginia Tech) … Marshall is leading Conference USA in field goal percentage (.929), sacks (32, No. 8 nationally) and fourth-down percentage allowed (27.3) … Marshall punter Robert LeFevre has pinned the opposition inside the 20-yard line on 15 occasions so far this season while only suffering two touchbacks.