HUNTINGTON — Before the first World War ever took place or before the Titanic was even a thought, Marshall and Ohio met on the football field. The inaugural game took place in 1905 with Marshall earning a 6-5 win over the Bobcats in Huntington.
Fast forward 114 years later and everything about the game has changed — rules, protective gear, schemes — everything.
But one thing remains the same: The Thundering Herd and Bobcats simply don’t like each other.
None of the players on either side have ever played in a “Battle for the Bell,” so they don’t really know what it’s like. For them, the mindset is that it’s just another game and that they are wanting to go 1-0 for the week.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday isn’t pushing the rivalry vibe with his players, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t up for the contest.
Holliday knows that Ohio and head coach Frank Solich have one of the premier teams in the Group of 5 and are considered the favorite to win the Mid-American Conference.
The challenge will be a stout one when the Herd and Bobcats meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the “Battle for the Bell” at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The game is being streamed by Stadium on Facebook.
“I have great respect for what Solich has done there,” Holliday said. “They were picked to win the Mid-American Conference by their peers, and if you watch them on tape, they have really good players. It will be a great challenge for us.”
Both teams come into the matchup off a loss — Marshall falling 14-7 to No. 22 Boise State and Ohio falling at Pittsburgh 20-10.
Neither team wants a two-game skid on its resume, so chances are that the game will take on an intense tone for just as many reasons outside of the rivalry as within it.
For Marshall, this week is about vindication and getting back in the win column more than a traveling trophy.
“Every one of us walked off the field with a hung head, knowing what could have been and what kind of should have been,” Marshall center Levi Brown said of the 14-7 loss to Boise State. “It’s one of those things that, as a leader — I had to address the team yesterday. It was like, ‘Hey, we can’t let one loss turn into two.’
“There are so many things we can control and so many we can’t. Let’s control what we can and do our best to look forward and prep for this week because a really good Ohio team is coming in here to try and win.”
Ohio is led by quarterback Nathan Rourke, who is the veteran leader among a relatively young corps of skill players.
Rourke has thrown for 5,000 yards and rushed for 1,800 yards in his Ohio career, making him a dual threat that Marshall has its eyes on.
Holliday compared Rourke to former Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton and Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill for his football IQ. Considering that Tettleton and Stockstill fared well against the Herd, it is a comparison that grabs attention.
“Tettleton gave us fits and this guy is very, very similar,” Holliday said. “He’s the same kind of guy. He makes every throw as well and that’s what makes him a real problem.”
From a Marshall standpoint, the offense is looking to get better after a dismal final half at Boise State that yielded zero yards and first downs in the second half of a close loss.
With Tyler King now gone from Marshall’s program, Brenden Knox will get the bulk of the carries as the Herd looks to establish the run to open up its passing game.
Offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said that Ohio is going to have seven guys in the box at most times in an effort to take that run game away.
“They play really good team defense and they do some things in the blitz game that you have to prepare for, obviously, but the main thing about them — the biggest compliment that you can give them — is that they are a disciplined defense that plays hard and plays physical,” Cramsey said of the Bobcats.
Brown said that physical aspect is what he’s most looking forward to this weekend.
“We accept every challenge every week with the same mentality: we want to win,” Brown said. “If the rivalry fire sparks up late in the week, we’re all open and inviting for it. It’s a fun game, obviously because there’s a trophy to play for, but no matter what, we just look forward to having fun this week, playing against a really good Ohio team.”