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NCAA Football: Marshall at Middle Tennessee

Jim Brown/For The Herald-Dispatch Marshall Thundering Herd safety Nazeeh Johnson (13) breaks up a pass intended for Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders wide receiver Jimmy Marshall (83) during the first half on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

HUNTINGTON — While at Penn State from 2014-17, then-assistant coaches Charles Huff and Ricky Rahne saw their friendship grow due to the similarities in the love of the game and their competitive nature.

Now that both are leading their own programs — Huff in his first year at Marshall and Rahne in his second year (first on-field) with Old Dominion — they will again cross paths.

Don’t expect the friendship side to stick around for too long, according to Huff, though.

The very thing that brought them together — the competitive nature — is sure to come out on Saturday when Marshall hosts Old Dominion in Conference USA action at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

“It’s going to be about two minutes of ‘Hey, how you doing? Hope all is well,’” Huff said. “As much as I’m a fierce competitor, he’s probably the exact same, so there’s probably going to be some colorful language being thrown toward each other through the headsets during the game. After the game, we’re going to shake hands and move on.”

In the coaching world, life moves fast, so there’s not always time to reach out every week and speak, so those two minutes pre-game will undoubtedly be special for both.

Rahen and Huff both spoke of how their relationship doesn’t need much time together to stay strong because of the deep respect between the two.

“He’s probably one of my best friends because we don’t need to talk a whole lot for us to be friends,” Rahne said. “I’m not great on keeping up with people....He’s a person who we can not talk for a couple weeks — even a month — and then we talk and it’s like we haven’t missed a beat.”

While the friendship makes the matchup special, the competitive nature adds a spice to a battle that already didn’t need much more flavor with two teams on three-game skids hungry for a win.

The fact that it is someone that each respects on the other side makes each head coach want the victory that much more.

“I’m going to cheer for him every week of the year except this one,” Rahne said. “Obviously, he’s going to be the same way. Little things like sometimes those type of rivalries like a rivalry with your brother, sometimes those are the most fierce ones.”

With the coaching rivalry/friendship and both teams in dire need of a win, there should be an edge and intensity about this game that will make Homecoming 2021 in Huntington fun for those involved.

For Marshall (2-3, 0-1 C-USA), the key is to eliminate the mistakes that have kept the Herd offense from seeing its scores reflect its production.

The Herd is tied for the FBS lead in turnovers with 15 through five games, which includes six in last week’s 34-28 loss to Middle Tennessee to start league play.

For Old Dominion, the key is getting off to a strong start, which has not happened against FBS competition this season.

The Monarchs dug themselves a 27-point hole against Buffalo, only to fall by a single point in the end.

They then fell behind UTEP by 17, only to take a fourth-quarter lead before falling in another close battle.

For one team, Saturday will signal a changing of the trends and, perhaps, a reversal of fortunes.

For the other, it will be a deeper step into a hole that will be tough to climb out of.

For two friends, it will be the first chapter in what they hope is a long rivalry against each other.

It makes for good theater as Marshall and Old Dominion dance for Homecoming 2021 in Huntington.

HUFF:

Ricky Rahne is probably one of my best friends, not only in coaching but in life. We spent a lot of time together, we’re similar.

I’ve learned a lot from Ricky throughout the years and hopefully, he’s learned something from me.

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch, who also covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.

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