Marshall tops WKU
HUNTINGTON — For Marshall University football, Saturday night was about overcoming adversity.
In a bigger perspective, the game was about honoring those people who died, including 37 football players, in the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash and also those who had made sure the program kept moving forward.
Thus, the team wore black uniforms and the names of the 75 crash victims in the stripe on their helmets.
However, in a smaller form, it was still about overcoming adversity.
Marshall was on a two-game skid and had never defeated Western Kentucky University since the Hilltoppers joined Conference USA. That ended Saturday night when Marshall earned a hardfought 30-23 win over Western Kentucky in front of 19,516 fans on a chilly November night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Thundering Herd moved to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in C-USA. Western Kentucky dropped to 5-5 overall and 3-3 in C-USA.
“That was a heck of football game — a very physical game — and I was proud of the way our players played,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “This is really an emotional game for us. ... I’m just happy for our fans and happy that we were able to honor the 75 the way we did.”
Marshall took control of the contest in the third quarter, scoring 17 points, courtesy of all three phases of its game.
The Herd took the opening drive of the second half and found the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run by Tyler King that capped an impressive two-quarter stretch by the Marshall offense. King finished with 102 yards and the touchdown on 22 carries.
After Western Kentucky took its opening drive of the game for a touchdown, the Hilltoppers did not get another first down until after King’s touchdown run that gave Marshall a 20-7 lead.
Following a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Nuss, Western Kentucky had a
chance to creep closer after safety Devon Key picked off Marshall quarterback Chase Litton in the end zone. Litton finished the game 17 of 28 for 190 passing yards and an interception.
However, the Herd defense rose up to the task as nickelback Nazeeh Johnson jumped a route and returned an interception of Mike White’s pass 45 yards to push the lead to three scores.
“You love seeing a guy like Nazeeh go make a play — (a guy) who hadn’t really had his name known around here,” Marshall tight end Ryan Yurachek said. “Now, his name is going to be known. You love seeing guys like that make plays. It’s exciting.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Marshall’s Jaquan Yulee forced a fumble that Chase Hancock jumped on, which led to a 44-yard field goal from Kaare Vedvik for a 30-10 lead.
Western Kentucky was able to get back within 30-23 late on a 27-yard touchdown pass from White to Quin Jernighan, but the Herd got a critical kickoff return out to the 42-yard line from Keion Davis and was able to close out the win to end its two-game losing streak.
On the return Davis did much of the work himself after Western Kentucky kicked deep with Marshall protecting against an onside kick attempt.
“I thought Keion was going to take a knee back there. I was about ready to choke him,” Holliday said. “I look up and the ball is at the 50. I was like what the — oh yeah, yeah, that’s good. That’s great.”
Vedvik’s 44-yarder was his second 40-plus yard field goal of the contest after he hit from 42 yards just before the end of the first half to give Marshall a 13-7 halftime lead.
Marshall came into the contest wanting to establish the run and was able to do it early behind King and Keion Davis, who scored on a 3-yard touchdown in the first half to give the Herd the lead for good.
The rushing attack was critical because Marshall lost two key components of its passing offense in the first quarter because of injuries.
Wide receiver Tyre Brady went out of the game on Marshall’s first series and slot receiver Marcel Williams exited later in the first quarter. The duo had combined for 30 receptions and nearly 400 yards in the Herd’s last two games. In their absence, Nick Mathews and Willie Johnson both pulled in four catches to help the Herd offense.
The status of Brady and Williams for next week is unknown.
Western Kentucky started the scoring on the game’s first drive as White hit receiver Quin Jernighan for a 6-yard score to cap an 11-play, 73-yard drive. The key play came when White escaped pressure on a third-and-long and hit Deon Yelder for 17 yards and a first down.
After allowing 73 yards on the opening drive, Marshall’s defense allowed just 16 yards the rest of the first half.
However, White got the passing game going in the second half and ended the game with 334 yards and three touchdowns. The Hilltoppers had only 34 yards rushing, however.
Marshall returns to action at 7 p.m. Saturday when the Herd travels to the Alamodome to take on UTSA.