Huntington (& Herd) Heroes Win Opener, 62-13

It was like old times, but it was a new deal in the Cabell County Veteran's Memorial Field House on Saturday night in the Huntington Heroes opener in play in the American Indoor Football League. A loud, near capacity crowd rocked "The House" as MU players from the gridiron, not the hardwood, woke up the echoes of great games past in the venerable building and the Heroes made quick work of the Miami (Ohio) Valley Silverbacks, 62-14. Former MU stars led the way, while a former OU QB had six TDs.

The Heroes were led by a number of outstanding Marshall players, as 13 former Herd players, including coaches Jayson Grayson and Nate McPeek, made up the nucleus of the Huntington roster for the opening night in the AIFL. Defensive end Jamus Martin, who had 13.5 tackles-for-loss and eight sacks for the Herd opposite All-American Jonathan Goddard in 2004, led the way for the Heroes with nine tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two sacks (for minus-15 yards and a forced fumble), two passes-broken-up and four quarterback pressures. "It's always the same what you can do on defense, no matter the size of the field. It's still about speed," said Martin of forcing eight turnovers by Miami. "We set a gol of not allowing over 14 points and held them to 13. The best thing we have right now on defense is chemistry. We're playing with a lot of players who played together at Marshall. I've played four with some of them, two with others, but we have all played together at some time." Martin is playing end at about 220 pounds, adding to his quickness. "We also have some good players from Ohio, Bowling Green. We knew the offense would explode eventually."

Jamus Martin, a All-Mid-American Conference player in his days at MU, led the Huntington Heroes defense in holding Miami's Silverbacks to just 13 points in the opener at the Field House.(file photo by Greg Perry of HI)

The Marshall flavor to the defense was evident to all the 3,100 in attendance at the Field House, sitting in the chairs in the upper deck that will seat about 3,850. Besides Martin, Kevin Atkins played at defensive end and Marcus Hairston was at nose tackle. Linebackers included Charlie Tynes (nine tackles, a sack, a pressure and a forced fumble) and Michael "Kool-Aid" Owens, who had the shot of the night when on an interception return by cornerback, and former MU track standout Mark Littlejohn, Owens decleated Miami receiver Travis Pugh, out of Clemson, on a cut-back block that had the crowd chanting "Kool-Aid, Kool-Aid." Besides Littlejohn, the Heroes safety is former Herd linebacker Larry Davis and the other corner is former MU corner Craig Chisholm.

Kevin Atkins, second on the Herd in tackles in 2004 at linebacker, had two tackles and recovered at fumble in the Heroes 62-14 win over Miami (Ohio) Valley in the AIFL. Huntington held Miami to minus-19 yards rushing and forced eight turnovers (file photo by Greg Perry, HI).

Miami had won its opener last weekend by the score of 54-30 over the Syracuse Soldiers, with receiver Maurice Lee (Ohio State) named at the AIFL Offensive Player of the Week, while lineman Joe Washington (WKU) was the Lineman of the Week in the league. Huntington shredded the OL of the Silverbacks, recording three sacks, five tackles-for-loss and seven quarterback pressures on Miami QBs Kerrick Cooper (WV State) and Mike Hall (Naval Academy). The Heroes had five interceptions, two by Davis for 31 yards in returns, and broke up 10 passes. Lee caught nine passes for 76 yards, but did not reach the endzone and saw three attempts picked off in front of him.

Charlie Tynes, who was third in tackles as a senior at Marshall in 2003, had nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Huntington (file photo from Herd Insider).

The defense was not the only place former MU stars were shining, although the brightest star was a former Herd linebacker now on the other side of the ball. Dionte Wilson, who was fourth in tackles in 2004 at MU, scored three touchdowns to lead the offensive charge of the Heroes. "The last time I scored three touchdowns playing football...was last week playing a video game," said Wilson after the game. He rushed six times for 15 yards, including a one-yard and two-yard scores, and caught one pass for a nine-yard touchdown from quarterback Freddie Ray, a former Ohio Bobcat who, in his words, said "It was the best day (of football) I've ever had in Huntington. I was used to running the ball 35, 36 times in some tough games with the Herd." Ray, who only completed 7-of-17 for just 66 yards in his final game against the Herd in 2003 at Athens (losing three of four to Marshall in his career), was very good in his second year of indoor football.

Ray passed 33 times, completing 17, for 196 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. He found Wilson and Littlejohn for scores, and threw two touchdowns each to James Hawkins (7/85), who played at Bowling Green, and to Shane Holsinger (5/80), who played at Eastern Kentucky. Holsinger made the play of the night, when he caught a touchdown pass from Ray against the back wall, tumbling over the wall and out of sight to the crowd. The official, however, was at the wall, verified the catch and signaled touchdown on a play worthy of SportsCenter. Also having a good first game was Leonard Moore, who played at Pikeville College. He rushed three times for 46 yards and caught two passes for three yards.

Nate McPeek, who coaches the offensive line and special teams, was a former All-MAC performer at MU. He is also the newphew of head coach Gary McPeek. "I think people could see how quick our defensive line is and I thought the offensive line played great," said the younger McPeek. "It's great the fans of Huntington came out to support these Marshall guys, some of who I played with. They are not getting rich ($200 per game, plus a $50 bonus for winning) by this deal, but we have to have these fans to come out and support us to make this work. They were great tonight and we hope to sellout for Erie in two weeks."

McPeek arranged for former MU receiver and the winner of three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots, Troy Brown, to handle the ceremonial coin toss in the opener. "We hope to have Coach Bob Pruett for the coin toss for the Erie game," said McPeek. "The following week, Marshall head coach Mark Snyder will be here to flip the coin. The support of the Marshall people is critical for us." Huntington will be on the road this Friday for a game against the Johnstown (Pa.) RiverHawks at 7:00 p.m. The Heroes return home for a March 25 home game with the Erie (Pa.) Freeze, then will be at home on March 31 for a meeting with the Syracuse (N.Y.) Soldiers. All home games start at 7:00 p.m., with tailgating at the Field House open at 3:00 p.m., while the doors open at 6:00 p.m. Other future home games include the Reading (Pa.) Express on April 15; The Canton (Ohio) Legends on May 6; the Johnstowns RiverHawks on June 2; and the final home game is June 10 against the Stubenville (Ohio) Stampede. Erie is 2-0 to start the season, while Miami falls to 1-1 in the North Division of the AIFL. South Division teams are located in Daytona Beach, Fla.; Asheville and Raleigh, N.C.; Columbus, Augusta and Rome, Ga.; and Florence, S.C.

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