Va Tech’s Beamer to honor Marshall crash victims

A few hours before kickoff, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer

will take a detour to a cemetery in Huntington, W.Va., where he’ll

pay his respects at a memorial for the 75 Marshall players, coaches

and others killed in a 1970 plane crash, the worst disaster in U.S.

sports history.

There, he’ll place a stone bearing the same words that appear

above the tunnel leading to Worsham Field at Virginia Tech.

The inscription reads, ”For those who have passed, For those to

come … REACH FOR EXCELLENCE.”

Two of Marshall’s coaches on that plane were former Virginia

Tech players, including one of Beamer’s teammates. Players for

13th-ranked Virginia Tech (3-0) will wear helmet stickers with the

initials of Frank Loria and Rick Tolley and the No. 75 when the

Hokies play at Marshall (1-2) on Saturday.

Tolley, a native of Mullens, W.Va., played at Virginia Tech from

1958-61, becoming Marshall’s coach in 1969. The Thundering Herd

were 3-6 in his second season when they prepared to play East

Carolina in Greenville, N.C.

Thirty-six football players and 39 coaches, administrators,

community leaders, fans and crew never made it home on Nov. 14,

1970. Beamer still has vivid memories of the crash of Marshall’s

chartered jet on a hillside near the Huntington airport in rain and

fog.

He recalled sitting in the living room of his girlfriend – and

now wife – Cheryl – in Richmond, Va., when the news flashed across

the television screen.

His thoughts immediately turned to Loria, his teammate on the

1966 Virginia Tech squad when Beamer was a freshman.

”He was a couple of years ahead of me, but he was a guy that

you really looked up to,” Beamer said this week. ”He was a guy

that just had a great way about him. He was smart in his books, but

he was smart on the football field, too. He was a great punt

returner.”

Loria returned three punts for scores in 1966. A native of

Clarksburg, W.Va., his No. 10 is one of four numbers retired at

Virginia Tech and he was elected to the College Football Hall of

Fame in 1999.

Two years ago, when Marshall played at Virginia Tech, the Hokies

wore the throwback logo of the 1960s to honor Loria.

On Saturday, Frank Loria Jr., born one month after his father’s

death, will handle the coin toss.

The game marks the fourth straight non-marquee opponent for

Virginia Tech, which is looking for its first quality road win of

the season before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play next week

at home against Clemson. The Hokies squeaked past East Carolina

17-10 two weeks ago and faces a Marshall team that wants to show it

can hang with the Hokies.

”East Carolina was definitely a hostile environment,” Beamer

said. ”We all had a few butterflies. We had so many self-inflicted

mistakes that we understand what we’re going to get this week and

we’re going to work on improving and not killing ourselves with

self-inflicted mistakes.”

It’s just one of five home games for Marshall this season and

starts a stretch that includes games at Louisville next week and at

Central Florida the week after.

”We do take emphasis with home games,” said Marshall

linebacker George Carpenter. ”We have very few homes games this

year. It is kind of special having Virginia Tech come to our house.

it’s always a big game when we play them.”

Marshall and Virginia Tech have played three times in the past

decade, all in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies won 52-10 in 2009, 41-14

in 2005 and 47-21 in 2002.

Marshall played strong at West Virginia for one half before

losing in a lightning-shortened season opener, beat Southern Miss

at home, then fell apart at Ohio last week, losing 44-7. Freshman

Rakeem Cato threw four interceptions against Ohio and goes against

a Virginia Tech defense that has intercepted a pass in 10 straight

games.

”There are two things we really pride ourselves in,” said

Marshall coach Doc Holliday. ”Number one is protecting the

football and number two is tackling. We didn’t do either one of

those against Ohio U. We have to do those two things against

Virginia Tech to have a chance.”

Virginia Tech can go 4-0 for the first time since 2006 and has

its own young quarterback in sophomore Logan Thomas, who completed

21 of 33 passes for 292 yards and two scores in a 26-7 win over

Arkansas State last week.

Running back David Wilson is helping Thomas carry the load by

averaging 129 rushing yards per game. He ran for 165 yards against

Marshall two years ago. But the Hokies will be without career

receptions leader Jarrett Boykin with a hamstring injury.