Friday, February 10, 2012

Young Herd delivers unlikely upset at Homecoming

Reggie Oliver fires a pass downfield against Bowling Green's defense.
        There wasn’t a whole lot that went right for the Young Thundering Herd in ’71, which was the season after the plane crash that wiped out most of Marshall’s varsity football team. But on Homecoming Day of that year, all went well as MU delivered a shocking 12-10 upset of highly-regarded Bowling Green State University.
       In some respects, this was an unconventional victory. Marshall had a better than average passing game, but against the Falcons, the Herd rolled with a 193 rushing yards against one of the nation’s top defenses. John Johnstonbaugh ran for 98 yards and one touchdown to lead MU. Back-up quarterback David Walsh scored the game-winner on a two-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
       The Young Herd did its part to bring home the victory. Linebacker Charles Henry spearheaded an inspired defensive effort with his game-high 20 tackles. The Falcons, who entered the game with a 5-1 record and a shot at landing a berth in the Peach Bowl, had one final drive that would’ve spoiled Marshall’s Homecoming celebration. The Herd came through with a third-down stop at its 20-yard line. It appeared that Bill White would pull this one out for Bowling Green, but he missed on a 37-yard field goal try.
       This was supposed to be a no-doubt-about-it win for Bowling Green. A week before Marshall’s Homecoming, the Falcons handled Miami of Ohio very easily in a surprisingly one-sided 33-7 win. This was the same Miami team that walloped the Young Herd 66-6 earlier in the season.
        In retrospect, the Falcons doomed themselves by doing some homework. Bowling Green coach Don Nehlen provided plenty of bulletin board material with a public statement he made in the days leading up his team’s game against Marshall. The newspaper quote read: Marshall doesn’t have the personnel to hurt us on the ground.”
       As things turned out, that was just the beginning of Bowling Green’s miscalculations. The Falcons coaching staff didn’t bother to find out that Marshall had installed artificial turf and was no longer playing on grass. As a result, Bowling Green was outfitted with cleats that were designed strictly for grass. Wearing grass-surface cleats on artificial turf causes traction problems and the Falcons struggle with keeping their footing all game long.
       But that wasn’t all. The temperature that day was unseasonably hot (in the mid-80s) and the Falcons opted to wear wool jerseys. The heat combined with the heavy jerseys was the same as playing in a sauna. All game long coach, Bowling Green’s trainers were kept busy pouring cold water and ice over the players to keep them cool.
       On the opposite sideline, coach Jack Lengyel brought in a giant cooler for his team to sit in, which allowed them to stay cool.
       The Bowling Green game would be the second and last win of the season for the Young Herd. In a way it was like déjà vu from two years earlier when Marshall ended its 27-game non-winning streak with a 21-16 win in the mud over Bowling Green, which was also a Homecoming game.

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