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1027_mu football

Marshall’s Xavier Gaines (11) stiff-arms past two Western Kentucky defenders in the 2019 meeting between the teams.

It will be chippy.

Not the kind the Keebler Elf makes, either.

Instead, this is the sort of chip Robert Conrad puts on his shoulder and dares all comers to knock off.

Welcome to Marshall University’s intense rivalry with Western Kentucky that reconvenes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

How chippy will it be?

Let’s ask Will Ulmer. Since the Thundering Herd’s redshirt senior offensive lineman hails from Richmond, Kentucky, Ulmer seems like a perfect authority on the subject.

“I do think there’s a certain energy that surrounds this game,” said the 6-foot-5, 314-pound tackle/guard. “It makes it really, really fun to play in because we don’t like them and they don’t like us. This game means a lot to both teams. I really enjoy playing in games like this. It’s more high stakes.”

There are also more high emotions.

“[MU head coach Doc Holliday] always says this game is most important because it’s the next one,” said Ulmer. “You have to treat everyone the same. You have to respect all your opponents. But I think we might have a little extra chip on our shoulders for this game.”

There’s no doubt.

And that chip swings both ways.

So it comes as no surprise that since the MU-WKU rivalry resumed in 2014, the series is deadlocked 3-3. The Hilltoppers upset Marshall 67-66 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2014 to halt the Herd’s undefeated season. Then, in 2015, WKU prevailed again, 49-28. Next, Marshall was embarrassed 60-6 in Huntington in 2016.

Then the series turned with Marshall posting three consecutive wins, including one in Bowling Green. But those three victories were all closely contested games with final scores of 30-23 (2017), 20-17 (2018) and 26-23 (2019).

So now it’s time to put the chips on the … uh, shoulders.

“I’m sure they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder,” said Ulmer. “I’m sure we’re going to have a chip on our shoulder. But at the end of day, we’ve got to treat this like any other game. We can’t get lost in that kind of mess.”

That applies, in particular, to Marshall’s redshirt freshman starting quarterback Grant Wells, who will be making only his third start. Does he know what he’s in for? Have Wells’ older teammates educated him about the chippiness of these contests?

“Yeah, yeah,” said Wells with a knowing smile. “It does mean a little more because it’s Western, and there’s a history behind this game. Anytime you go into a big game like this, you have to expect it to be a little chippy. Intentions are going to be high.”

Bad intentions, perhaps.

But senior safety Nazeeh Johnson has more of an upbeat outlook.

“It makes it more fun because it’s a rivalry, it’s an emotional rivalry,” said the 5-10, 200-pound free safety. “I’ve never lost to this team in the three years since I’ve been playing. And for me to be a senior this year, it means a lot more to me.

“In 2017, they won the league. In the fourth quarter, they came all the way back last year. They came all the way back and we won by a field goal. It’s just like they always find a way to keep the game close and we always find a way to keep the game close.

“They’re not going to go anywhere and we’re not going to go anywhere, so it should be a fun game.”

Chips ahoy, everybody.

Let the chippiness fall where it may.