The fastest-rising rivalry in C-USA takes place Saturday night in the 2018 edition of the Moonshine Throwdown between the Marshall Thundering Herd and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Despite being a newer rivalry, the Moonshine Throwdown has developed into arguably the most intense and action-packed rivalry in C-USA. It has even trickled over into men’s basketball in recent years, but it all started in football.
The Herd leads the all-time series with the Hilltoppers 5-4, but in the Moonshine Throwdown era, WKU has had the edge. It all got started on one fateful afternoon in Huntington, West Virginia in 2014 when one of the greatest college football games in recent memory took place.
Marshall headed into its 2014 regular-season finale riding high at 11-0 and ranked No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings with hopes of finishing off its first perfect regular season since 1999. WKU, however, had other ideas and would quickly explain to the Herd that this would be a game for the ages.
The then 6-5 Hilltoppers shredded a Marshall defense like no team had done all season long by the tune of 49 first-half points, but the Herd’s explosive offense put up 42 first-half points of its own and trailed by only seven at halftime after trailing by as many as 21 points in the first half.
The offenses slowed down in the second half, but four quarters proved to not be enough time to settle this one and the teams headed into overtime tied at 59. Marshall struck first in the overtime period and led it 66-59, but the Hilltoppers answered right back with a touchdown of their own on the following possession.
However, WKU decided to roll the dice and go for the 2-point conversion and the win. The massive underdogs converted the 2-point conversion and WKU won the game 67-66 in overtime to spoil the Herd’s perfect 2014 season and send shockwaves across the college football world. And thus, the Moonshine Throwdown was born.
Marshall still finished the 2014 season at 13-1 with a C-USA Championship, Boca Raton Bowl victory, and final national ranking of No. 22 in the Coaches Poll along with a No. 23 final ranking in the AP Poll. But that one in the loss column took away what could have been a New Year’s Six bowl game appearance and a rare perfect season.
The Hilltoppers finished the 2014 season at 8-5 overall with a wild Bahamas Bowl victory in their first season in C-USA. That momentum would carry over into the 2015 season when WKU proved to be the class of C-USA football. And wouldn’t you know, the C-USA East Division Championship came down to the 2015 regular season finale against Marshall.
The winner of this game would win the East Division and host the C-USA Championship game, but WKU proved to be too much for the Herd at home. The Hilltoppers left no doubt and defeated Marshall 49-28 to win C-USA’s East Division for the first time and advanced to the C-USA Championship game against Southern Miss.
WKU finished the 2015 season at 12-2 overall with a C-USA Championship, Miami Beach Bowl victory, and final national ranking of No. 24 in the AP Poll. The Herd had a stellar season of its own by finishing 10-3 overall with a St. Petersburg Bowl victory, but its hopes of getting back to the C-USA Championship game were thwarted via the Moonshine Throwdown.
The 2016 meeting between Marshall and WKU is a game Herd fans are probably still trying to forget. Marshall had a disastrous 2016 season on all fronts and WKU made sure to make it even more disastrous in the 2016 regular season finale in Huntington. The Hilltoppers were one win away from winning C-USA’s East Division for the second straight year and they did so emphatically.
In what stands as the worst home loss for Marshall since Joan C. Edwards Stadium’s inception in 1991, WKU throttled the Herd 60-6 to cement another C-USA Championship game appearance. Marshall’s miserable 2016 season ended at 3-9 overall, but the Hilltoppers were far from done.
WKU repeated as C-USA Champions by knocking off Louisiana Tech at home and would follow that up with a Boca Raton Bowl victory as well. In addition to those two huge wins, the Hilltoppers finished the 2016 season at 11-3 overall and found themselves ranked No. 23 in the final Coaches Poll.
The 2017 season saw Marshall get back on track not only as an overall team, but against WKU as well. The Herd hosted the Hilltoppers for the second straight season, but this game would have much different meaning for the Marshall program and fans. Not only was it a game against WKU, but it was the game in which the program honored the 75 victims of the November 14, 1970 plane crash.
The Herd would not let the opportunity go to waste and after a close game throughout the first two and a half quarters, Marshall opened up a 30-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But WKU wouldn’t go away quietly and the lead was down to 30-23 late in the fourth quarter.
Marshall was able to hold off the Hilltoppers, however, and got the 30-23 win to finally break through against its new rival and successfully honor the 75 at the same time. The Herd finished the 2017 season at 8-5 overall with a New Mexico Bowl victory while WKU had its first losing season since 2010 by finishing at 6-7 overall with a loss in the Cure Bowl.
It is Moonshine Throwdown season once again on Saturday when WKU hosts Marshall in the C-USA opener for both teams. The Hilltoppers head into this game at 1-3 overall coming off their first win of the season at Ball State last week while the Herd heads in at 2-1 overall coming off its first loss at home against NC State last week.
This rivalry has blossomed in recent years and it becomes more apparent how big of a deal it is when you see how the respective players and fanbases treat it. And this Saturday night should be yet another example of this rivalry at its finest when these two teams square off looking to get off to a positive start in C-USA play.
Marshall and WKU kickoff Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by Stadium. For all your Moonshine Throwdown needs, follow @MoonShineTD on Twitter.