The Marshall Thundering Herd comes to town as a strong favorite in Saturday afternoon’s game against the Charlotte 49ers, but officials at both schools hope the two Conference USA foes can establish a rivalry in years to come.
The schools have numerous connections, ranging from 49ers coach Brad Lambert once serving as an assistant coach at Marshall to the hundreds of Thundering Herd fans who live in the Queen City.
“When we got into Conference USA, I was looking forward to the chance for our two teams to meet,” Lambert says. “There are a lot of ties.”
One of those ties will carry plenty of emotion when the teams square off at 3:30 p.m. at Richardson Stadium.
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Phil Ratliff, the 49ers’ popular offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator who died of heart problems in August, was an All-America lineman in the early 1990s at Marshall, when Lambert was an assistant coach there. Thundering Herd players will remember Ratliff on Saturday by wearing decals with his number, 56, on their helmets.
“There will be a lot of emotion,” Lambert says.
“When this game was scheduled, a lot of people up here were really looking forward to seeing our old friends again – Brad Lambert, Jim Durning (Charlotte’s strength coach and another ex-Marshall player) and Phil Ratliff,” said Woody Woodrum, a student trainer in the early 1990s with the Thundering Herd and now a sports talk show host in Huntington, W.Va.
“Coach Ratliff’s death will put a bit of a damper on everything, but we are still looking forward to this game,” Woodrum said. “This could become a nice rivalry.”
Lambert said there are additional connections. His wife, Angie, is a Marshall graduate, and the two met when he was a young coach there.
“And my father-in-law coached high school football for a number of years in West Virginia,” Lambert said. “Doc (Marshall coach Doc Holliday) has been good to our family over the years.”
On paper, the Thundering Herd is a big favorite. They come to Charlotte with a 7-1 record and a program that produced 130 victories in the 1990s. The 49ers are reeling with a five-game losing streak in this first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“This is a way to measure our program,” Lambert said. “You look at Marshall’s outstanding football history. Their facilities are first-class. Their football program is important to their community and their state.”
Fans appear to have found an interest in the game. Charlotte athletic officials say they’re experiencing a strong demand for tickets.
“I think we’ll have a tremendous crowd, and I’m getting calls for tickets, so if you guys have any extra tickets, I need a few,” Holliday said. “I know a lot of our fans are going down, and I’m sure we’ll have a great turnout. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Lambert reports being besieged by friends from Marshall for tickets.
“I’ve been trying to help them out,” he said with a laugh. “I think they’ll be bringing a lot of people to Charlotte.”
Soccer showdown: Fans looking for a little extra excitement Saturday night can hang around the 49ers’ campus for Charlotte’s Conference USA men’s soccer match at 8 p.m. against Kentucky. The teams are tied for first with 5-0-1 records, and each will have one additional game after Saturday. The match will be at Transamerica Field, a short distance from the football stadium.
Kentucky is a member of Conference USA because the SEC Conference does not have a championship for men’s soccer.