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Title game generates buzz, sales Dec. 03, 2014 @ 11:00 PM BEN FIELDS HUNTINGTON — There’s no doubt some air left the sails of Marshall Thundering Herd football when a 2-point conversion from Western Kentucky at Joan C. Edwards Stadium last week ended the Herd’s hopes at an undefeated season and a New Year’s Day bowl game. Still, the Herd (11-1) will play in the Conference USA Championship game for the second consecutive season, hosting Louisiana Tech at the Joan on Saturday at noon. It’s the first conference title game to be played in Huntington since the Herd beat the Toledo Rockets, 49-45, for the Mid-American Conference title in 2002. Jim Brumfield, owner of Glenn’s Sporting Goods on 4th Avenue, said a home championship game brings its own unique momentum to the city, and will produce a big weekend for area retailers. “It’s great, it’s exciting, and it will build each day up to the game,” he said. “Having a winning season is a huge help to business, and having (the WKU) game the day after Thanksgiving was very successful for our Marshall University sales. “Now, we have a whole additional home game and it’s for a championship. There will be a lot of people in town who wouldn’t be here otherwise. It’s also close to Christmas, so you have some people who might get that extra Marshall item.” A C-USA title would not only be a first for Marshall, but also a boon for Glenn’s, which has the rights to print up the apparel declaring the accomplishment. “It reminds you of the old days,” Brumfield said. “It’s been a lot of years since Marshall has played for a title, and I think the fans know it’s something that doesn’t happen every year. It’ll be a must-attend game.” Hotels in Huntington are seeing the ripple effect from the game. Both the TownePlace Suites Huntington and Hampton Inn, both located near the Hal Greer Boulevard exit in Kinetic Park have been booked solid for about a month-and-a-half in anticipation for the game, said Laura Kilgore, sales manager for H&W Hotel Management, which manages the properties. Kilgore said Conference USA officials contacted the company about three months ago about holding rooms in anticipation for the game. “We have been holding rooms for Conference USA for a while now with the expectation and hope for a championship game,” Kilgore said. “We also have a lot of former players who stay with us at the hotel, and they, with the hope and expectation of the game, booked their hotel more than a month ago.” David Burke, sales director for the Holiday Inn along 3rd Avenue said that hotel also has been in touch with conference officials, and the hotel was 90 percent booked with the expectation of a sellout. He said he is aware that national media members are staying at the hotel this weekend. The Pullman Plaza Hotel is hosting the visiting Bulldog football team and its university officials, said Anna Pope, general manager of the hotel. She said she expected an official from Louisiana Tech’s athletic department to arrive at the hotel Friday to check out the hotel’s meeting rooms and accommodations ahead of the team’s arrival. The Pullman Plaza often hosts visiting teams, and Pope said hotel staff take special care to make the players, coaches and officials feel welcome. “It’s a lot of fun,” Pope said. “We make sure our employees don’t wear green. They’re paying to stay here, so we make sure we honor and respect them. We’re looking forward to having them.” Across 3rd Avenue from Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Tony Mancini, owner of Mancini’s Pizzeria, is prepping for a big day Saturday. For one, Mancini is attempting to get a new restaurant banner on his awning by Friday. He’ll also be opening early on Saturday. “There are only a few times a year we set up to sell breakfast,” he said. “Plus, it will be a little chilly, so I’m sure a lot of people will be stopping in to get warm. “We do a lot of tailgate-type food, so a lot of people come from across the street.” Like Brumfield, Mancini noted that a winning football program “changes the whole vibe of the city.” “Everybody’s excited, and everyone in the community benefits across the board, no matter what kind of business you run, own or work for,” he said. “People are still optimistic. There’s some recovery time for the fans after last week’s loss, but everyone will be out, loud and crazy by Saturday.” Jennifer Shand is the director for the Marshall University Center for Economic Development and Research, and she said the game easily could benefit the city financially, but she said such events also provide good visibility for the cities in which they take place. Without any hard numbers to use, Shand said it would be difficult to know how much money the city makes from the game. However, she said Huntington residents don’t need an economics degree to see what impact the game has on the city. “I think short of actually being able to collect information on how many people come to town, people can look at foot traffic compared to normal and how many out-of-town license plates they see,” Shand said. “That’s a sign that there are visitors in town.” While plenty of Marshall fans far and wide are expected to descend on Huntington for the game, there’s a bit of mystery about support for the opponent. It’s Louisiana Tech’s first appearance in a C-USA football title game. The Bulldogs joined the conference in 2013. Patrick Walsh, associate athletics communications director for the school of about 11,000, said fan support at away games has been high this year. But Walsh added all of Tech’s away games, with the exception of Old Dominion in Virginia, were within driving distance of the school’s campus in Ruston, Louisiana. Ruston is 851 miles from Huntington, an estimated 13- to 14-hour drive. “Even at Old Dominion, we were well-represented,” Walsh said. “The people here are excited, and I think the fans will turn out.” The Bulldogs’ average attendance at home this year was 20,052 in a stadium that holds 27,717. That’s up from 18,666 in the 2013 season. According to notes from the school’s athletic department, Louisiana Tech sold its entire allotment of 12,000 tickets when the school appeared in the 2008 Independence Bowl. The game was played in Shreveport, Louisiana, just more than 60 miles away from Tech’s campus. A person answering the phone at Marshall’s Ticket Office could not comment Wednesday as to how many tickets had been sold, but she said the tickets were selling quickly. Tickets for Saturday’s game can be purchased for $27 to $37 through the Marshall University Ticket Office. Tickets sold second-hand on Stubhub.com were going for more than $80 early this week. Follow reporter Ben Fields on Twitter @BenFieldsHD. The Herald-Dispatch Reporter Lacie Pierson contributed to this report.