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The Miami RedHawks - Marshall Thundering Herd Series: A Retrospective

The two teams add a new chapter to the former MAC rivalry in 2018. How did these programs get to this point?

Western Kentucky v Marshall Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

An old MAC rivalry gets renewed on September 1 as the Miami RedHawks host the Marshall Thundering Herd for their Homecoming festivities in their opening game of the season (I still can’t believe that’s a sentence I have to type). The series dates all the way back to 1905 and Miami holds the series lead 30-13-1 despite Marshall taking the last four meetings. With that in mind, let’s trace the history of the rivalry ahead of Saturday’s match-up.

That first meeting in 1905 was a 35-5 triumph for Miami in a season in which they didn’t have a head coach. Despite the loss, Marshall went on to a 6-2 record, the most wins in the ten-year history of the program. Meanwhile, Miami stumbled to a 4-3 record that season as tried to find its footing in southwestern Ohio college football.

The schools would not meet again until 1933, when the Frank Wilton-led Red and White took the next four games over the Herd. Wilton came to Miami after serving as an assistant coach at Stanford and went on to win three conference titles while at the helm in Oxford. Meanwhile, Cam Henderson and the Herd picked up their first win in the series in 1937 in a 7-0 victory before shutting out Miami the next two seasons.

After another long hiatus, the series was rekindled in 1948 when Miami began its 12-game winning streak over Marshall with only two of those victories being decided by one possession. This period in the rivalry is marked by some of the most defining moments in each program’s history. In that 38-6 victory in 1948, Miami’s George Blackburn was in the midst of leading the team to a MAC title following Sid Gillman’s departure to the University of Cincinnati. After the season, Blackburn went to UC as an assistant coach.

When the series resumed again in 1953, the Herd was dominated by the Ara Parseghian- led Miami team for three years. After Ara took the Northwestern head coaching job in 1955, Miami promoted assistant coach and former MU running back John Pont to the head job (Interesting fact: Parseghian was both the offensive and defensive coordinator as Notre Dame’s head coach). Pont was named First Team All-MAC three times and rushed for 2,390 yards and 27 touchdowns during his playing days, and he maintained the streak against Marshall despite a 21-14 scare in 1956.

After yet another break, the series started back up in 1963 as the teams ended the game tied 14-14. The coach for Miami at that time was some guy named Bo Schembechler, who was a guard at Miami before serving as an assistant for Woody Hayes at Miami and Ohio State. Under Schembechler, Miami claimed two MAC titles as well as maintaining the streak against Marshall during his tenure, including three shutouts.

Following Schembechler’s departure for Michigan in 1968, Miami entered its greatest heights as a program under another Hayes assistant, Bill Mallory. On top of extending the unbeaten streak over Marshall to 18 games, Mallory went 39-12 including the 11-0 1973 season when Miami finished #17 and #15 in the Coaches’ and AP polls respectively. After winning MAC Coach of the Year honors that season, Mallory went on to become the head man at Colorado.

Meanwhile, tragedy struck Marshall in 1970. Following a 17-14 loss at East Carolina, the plane carrying the team crashed on approach to the Tri-Valley Airport in Huntington and killed all 75 passengers. The season was supposed to conclude at Ohio the following week but was obviously cancelled. The 1971 Thundering Herd was dramatized in the film We Are Marshall, but some aspects of the season were sensationalized: Georgia Tech assistant coach Dick Bestwick was hired to be the new head coach but went back to GT after two days, and Jack Lengyel was hired in part due to him knowing new AD Joe McMullen from their days at Akron.

While the Herd were rebuilding, Miami flourished under head coach Dick Crum as he led the team to three MAC titles and upsets over Kentucky, Purdue, and Indiana while also beating Georgia and South Carolina in bowl games. However, Marshall beat the streak in 1976 as the Herd toppled Miami 21-16 in Huntington. Following Crum’s departure for North Carolina after a 10-1 season in 1977, Tom Reed took over at Miami and the pummeling of Marshall resumed until the after the 1980 season when the series would once again be put on hold.

The rivalry resumed in 1997 when Marshall joined the MAC and Miami was in the midst of its impressive run with Randy Walker, who would beat three Top 25 teams in his tenure in Oxford. Despite having Chad Pennington and Randy Moss, Marshall fell 45-21 at the hands of Miami’s prolific running back Travis Prentice. In 1998, the Herd started a winning streak of their own as they won the MAC title from 1997-2000, were runners-up in 2001, and were conference champions once more in 2002.

Marshall’s streak was broken in 2003 as Ben Roethlisberger led Miami to a 45-6 victory at home over the Herd. He threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns while Miami defensive coordinator Jon Wauford was in handcuffs after the game after allegedly knocking down a fan and linebackers coach Taver Johnson damaged the visiting coaches’ box following the contest. In 2004, Marshall started another winning streak with a 33-25 win before leaving the MAC to join Conference USA in 2005.

When the series resumed in 2013, a good Marshall team thumped the worst Miami team in program history 52-14 in Huntington. The following year in Oxford, Miami was again overpowered by a Herd team that would go on to win its first C-USA title in a 42-27 rout. Last season, the RedHawks fell 31-26 at Marshall thanks to a Gus Ragland pick-six and a pair of kickoff return scores. With all of the history and the talent between these two programs, the 2018 edition of this series has the makings of another classic contest.