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Marshall hosts Blue Raiders on anniversary of crash

HUNTINGTON (AP) — Born some three decades after the worst sports disaster in U.S. history, Grant Wells and his Marshall teammates are well schooled in the history, importance and the honor of wearing a jersey that has been passed down to them.

No. 16 Marshall hosts Middle Tennessee today on the 50th anniversary of a plane crash that killed 75 people, including most of the Thundering Herd football team.

“This is the most important game we play all year,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “Not even close.”

Wells, a redshirt freshman, grew up 50 miles away in Charleston and knows all about Marshall football’s past. Being the quarterback and the local kid that leads his offense in the crash’s silver anniversary game is emotional.

“Oh man, I don’t know if I can put that into words,” Wells said. “I’ve grown around the story. I’ve learned about it since I could throw the ball. Representing the Herd, especially in this game on the 50th anniversary, it’s going to be surreal. I can tell you that this team is already looking forward to that game.”

Marshall (6-0, 3-0 Conference USA) is trying to keep its focus as it marches toward a possible berth in the league championship game. But behind quarterback Asher O’Hara, Middle Tennessee (2-5, 2-3) beat the Thundering Herd at home last year.

The 36 players who died in the crash will receive degrees from Marshall in their fields of study on Friday. Before Saturday’s game a remembrance to the 75 victims is set at the Memorial Fountain on the Huntington campus.

Middle Tennessee is paying its respects, too.

Blue Raiders wide receiver CJ Windham knows all about personal loss. His mother, Rena Windham, died of cancer in 2018. In the first game after her death two days later, he caught a touchdown pass against Vanderbilt, looked up to the sky and blew her a kiss.

The Marshall story “means a lot to me,” Windham said. “As a kid, I’ve seen the movie ‘We are Marshall’ quite a few times. I see what that means to that program and how significant that was. Getting to play them on this particular date is special to me. I know it’s special to them.

“Of course, we’re going to stay focused and try to do what we’ve set out there to go do.”

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