MCGILL: Herd Completes Comeback, Gets First C-USA Win
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 15, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall defense pitched a shutout after halftime - its first scoreless half of the season. The offense put together a 6-minute, 41-second go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter - the longest drive in duration this season.
The Thundering Herd, on Homecoming, overcame adversity, overcame a halftime deficit and overcame Florida Atlantic's late-game march to preserve the win, 27-21, to snap a four-game losing streak and secure the program's first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season.
"I'm just proud of the kids the way they continued to fight," Holliday said. "Thought we came out in the second half and the defense shut that team out. Offense found a way to get that last drive down there and win the game."
Marshall sophomore running back Keion Davis plunged in from the 1 with 1:53 left to give the Herd a 25-21 lead. Quarterback Chase Litton found Josh Knight in the back of the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
After FAU started its final drive at the 50, the Owls marched to the MU 10 before turning the ball over on downs. The postgame celebration was, well, a hoot.
"Walk in that locker room and there's a lot of guys smiling and feeling good about themselves," Holliday said. "It's so much easier to come back to work tomorrow; the food is going to taste better tomorrow night and practice is going to be a little better and they'll have a little bounce in their step.
"I never thought losing helps you in any way, shape or form. Winning is what helps you."
Marshall improved to 2-4 overall and 1-1 in Conference USA play. The C-USA East division features 3-0 FIU, 2-0 Old Dominion, 2-1 Western Kentucky and 2-1 Middle Tennessee ahead of the Herd. Marshall still plays all of those teams - two at home and two on the road.
"We know our record at 2-4 isn't what this team is," Litton said. "We know we want to be great; we know we can be great."
Marshall flashed more of that potential after trailing 21-16 at halftime. The Herd defense buckled down. After allowing 182 yards on 26 carries in the first half (7.0 average), MU allowed 99 yards on 19 attempts (5.2 average). The FAU passing game struggled after intermission: 127 yards in the first two quarters and 48 yards after the break. The Owls averaged nearly 3 fewer yards per play in the second half - 8.1 in the first two quarters; 5.3 in the final two.
The Owls (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) had touchdown drives of 75, 89 and 63 yards in the first half, but had four fruitless drives in the second half, none longer than 45 yards. Two ended on downs, the other two on punts.
"We weren't perfect by any stretch," Holliday said.
Litton, a sophomore, turned in his third 300-yard passing performance of the season (the fifth of his two-year career). He finished 27 of 39 passing with 330 yards and one touchdown - the 15th consecutive game he has thrown for a score. He threw into double coverage and was picked off at the goalline in the first half.
"We had the one turnover at the end of the half which was not a good decision," Holliday said of Litton. "He knew that. But I thought he came back and made great decisions there in the second half and found a way to win the game."
Litton helped lead the comeback by spreading the ball to eight different receivers. Senior receiver Josh Knight finished with career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (128), and his 65-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter put Marshall ahead, 16-14.
"(Knight) stuck him and gave me a good read," Litton said. "I just put it out there and he made the play."
The tight ends, Emanuel Byrd and Ryan Yurachek, combined for nine receptions and 101 yards. Byrd, a senior, set a career high with five receptions and added 52 yards. Yurachek gained 49 yards, and sophomore target Michael Clark added three catches for 47 yards.
"They're all special," Litton said. "(Knight) had nine catches, our slots had a lot of catches. We knew coming into the game that's what we were going to attack. Studying film and game-planning, they gave us everything we wanted."
It all comes back to the firsts.
On defense, safety C.J. Reavis, a first-year player for the Herd, had a team-high (and career-high) 15 tackles. Freshman cornerback Chris Jackson had a trio of firsts: an interception, a tackle for a loss and a partial sack. Defensive end Blake Keller recovered his first fumble in two seasons at Marshall.
On offense, Knight had his career game, and running back Keion Davis had career highs in rushing attempts (22) and rushing yardage (74) while recording his first career two-touchdown game.
On special teams, kicker Amoreto Curraj twice set his career long for a field goal: a 31-yarder in the first quarter followed by a 39-yarder in the third. Those six points were the difference in the final score.
"The young players, they weren't used to the adversity we were going through," Bee said. "We needed this win to get back on the winning track and get our hopes up."