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MCGILL: Davis, Defense Help @HerdFB Maintain Streak Against Miami

Sept. 2, 2017

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By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Only 12 seconds elapsed before Marshall's Keion Davis made his presence felt at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, when he sauntered into the end zone at the end of a 99-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of Saturday night's game against visiting Miami University.

Later, Davis walked into the NCAA record books.

Davis, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt junior, became the 20th player in NCAA history with a pair of kickoff returns for a touchdown in the same game, which helped Marshall to a 31-26 win against its longtime rival Miami in front of a crowd of 22,463.

"Wow, what a game, huh?" Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "My goodness."

The win is the Thundering Herd's fourth consecutive in the series and ninth in 10 tries overall against the RedHawks. Marshall held on for the win despite on 10 points from its offense. Marshall gained a boost from Davis' two first-half touchdowns on special teams, and later received another jolt when sophomore cornerback Chris Jackson intercepted a pass and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown.

"That game was won because of our strength staff and what happened since January," Holliday said. "I told (the players) Friday if we played tremendous on special teams we'd win the game. That's what we did."

Davis set the tone after Marshall won the coin toss and elected to receive. He raced 99 yards for the touchdown on the kickoff return, the fourth time in program history a player has returned a kick at least 99 yards. Davis has accounted for two of them.

"I told them we had to start fast," Holliday said. "We did."

Davis' second kickoff return for a touchdown came with the Herd leading 14-13. This time he outran the opposition 97 yards for a score, the 21st time in college football history a player has returned two kickoffs for a touchdown in the same game. Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail accomplished the feat twice, meaning only 20 players can claim a share of the NCAA record.

Davis is the first player in Marshall history to return two kicks for TDs in the same game.

"Everybody has those first-play jitters," Davis said of the 99-yarder. "That was big; that was huge. They kicked it to me, the other 10 guys executed and I did what I did."

Davis' two kickoff returns were sandwiched around a pivotal 11-play, 98-yard scoring drive by Marshall. The Herd started at its own 2 and carved up the Miami defense before junior quarterback Chase Litton found junior receiver Tyre Brady for a 22-yard touchdown to give MU a 14-10 lead. On the play, Litton extended his NCAA-leading streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 22 games, and Brady scored for the first time as a member of the Thundering Herd.

"We had a boundary call and once I saw the safety not rotate I knew I was going to my open side," Litton said. "I kind of rolled out a little bit and stopped ... and put it in a spot where he can get it. He's a tremendous football player who is going to win a lot of games for us this year."

Jackson's "pick 6" came with 5:30 left of the third quarter, the first scoring after the Herd led 21-13 at the half. Jackson stepped in front of a Gus Ragland pass and followed a massive block from defensive end Davon Durant to get into the end zone. It was Jackson's third career touchdown, and it gave Marshall a 28-13 lead.

Miami made it a one-possession game when Ragland found tight end Ryan Smith for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:05 left of the third quarter to make it 28-20. Marshall's Kaare Vedvik, who handled kickoff, punt, field goal and extra point duties for the Herd, made a 27-yard field goal with 11:31 left of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 11 points, 31-20.

Miami answered again, this time on a 19-yard touchdown connection from Ragland to Smith with 8:01 left. The RedHawks had two more offensive possessions after that, but the Herd defense for a Miami punt and then batted down a pass in the end zone to secure the opening game win.

Litton finished 20 of 30 passing for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He moved into the Top 10 in Marshall football history in career passing yardage, passing Brian Anderson (2007-10).

Litton's long pass of 49 yards went to redshirt freshman Willie Johnson, who was making his return to the Herd after having his true freshman season cut short by an injury. Johnson finished with team highs in receptions (seven) and yards (88), both of which were also career bests.

The Herd's next three leading receivers were all making their Marshall debuts: Marcel Williams (five catches for 30 yards), Brady (three receptions for 54 yards) and running back Trey Rodriguez (three catches for 17 yards). Rodriguez paced the team in rushing with 18 carries and 54 yards, including a long run of 14.

Vedvik, a senior, dazzled as Marshall's do-everything kicker. He made his first career field goal, had two of his four punts downed inside the 20 and five of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks.

Defensively, redshirt freshman safety Brandon Drayton led the team with 12 tackles in his first career start. He also forced a fumble. Junior linebacker Chase Hancock and sophomore defensive end Marquis Couch each had a sack. Hancock also recorded 10 tackles.

Marshall (1-0) next plays at North Carolina State (0-1).