HUNTINGTON — Nov. 28, 2014.
It was a day that Marshall fans remember for all the wrong reasons.
In one of the most successful seasons in Marshall football history, it was the lone blemish for the Thundering Herd.
It was a black stain on an otherwise clean sheet — perhaps fitting, considering it was Black Friday.
For me, it was a day that I won’t soon forget.
Those who know me know that I am a somewhat regimented person when it comes to covering a contest.
I normally arrive three hours prior to kickoff to make sure wireless is up and then I generally walk around the stadium to get the atmosphere of the contest — crowd research to see if they are juiced up for the game or whether there’s little buzz surrounding an opponent.
Then, I go back to the press box, grab a bite to eat and put in headphones to listen to pregame music for the 45 minutes prior to the national anthem.
On this day, however, none of that was accomplished.
For this early Friday affair, I did not sleep, thanks to a Crohn’s disease attack. For those not familiar with Crohn’s, think unceasing food poisoning.
I picked up the phone on several occasions to call columnist Chuck Landon to see if he could cover for me, but with Marshall undefeated heading into the regular-season finale, I tried to suck it up.
I walked into the Ernie Salvatore Press Box at Joan C. Edwards Stadium just two minutes before “The Star-Spangled Banner” — 20 minutes before kickoff — which drew a quick question from Landon.
“You don’t look so good,” said Landon, who had seen those attacks before in our times on the road. “You OK?”
My response wasn’t one I wanted. I turned to my left and yacked into the trash can next to Marshall sports information director Jason Corriher. (Still sorry, Jason.)
You may think, “Why the hell is Grant telling us this story in relation to one of the greatest games in Herd history?”
That answer is simple.
It wasn’t long before Marshall players and fans had that same feeling in their stomach that I experienced all morning during that attack.
They felt sick. They felt like puking. They just felt gross.
The Marshall defense was one of the nation’s best under coordinator Chuck Heater, but on this day, they had no answer for the Hilltoppers’ offense, led by quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for 491 yards and eight touchdowns.
To put it in perspective, the Herd defense finished in the top 25 in scoring defense (21 points per game) and passing defense (196.9 yards per game) even after this contest.
This was a good Marshall defense. That Western Kentucky offense was just better on this day.
Western Kentucky scored 28 points by the end of the first quarter to eclipse the most Marshall had given up in a game all season.
The points didn’t quit coming, though.
Doughty threw six touchdown passes prior to halftime and eight for the game. Western Kentucky also had a 237-yard day from running back Leon Allen that contributed.
Still, despite allowing 738 total yards and turning the ball over four times on offense, Marshall had its chances to win the game — especially after quarterback Rakeem Cato found Eric Frohnapfel with 39 seconds left to tie it and then hit Hyleck Foster on a 25-yard score on the second play of overtime to give the Herd its first lead.
However, the defense could not find a way to preserve the lead, allowing Doughty’s final scoring pass before the Hilltoppers lined up for two.
With the entire stadium locked in, Doughty completed one of his easiest passes of the game — a toss in the flat to Willie McNeal, who walked into the end zone for the two-point conversion that knocked Marshall from the unbeaten ranks and ended any dreams of a Group of Five bid into the New Year’s Six bowls.
Following the play, Marshall’s players fell to the ground in disbelief while fans stood in awe not believing what just happened — as if waiting for another snap that would never come.
All eventually left Joan C. Edwards Stadium a little sick to their stomach.
Unlike my situation, it wasn’t because of Thanksgiving.
It was because of a Black Friday-turned-red as Western Kentucky poured gasoline on the fire of one of C-USA’s hottest rivalries.