MCGILL: Marshall Honors 75, Turns Tables on WKU
The Word on the Herd
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - First, the Marshall football program honored those lost in the football program's plane crash, which occurred on Nov. 14, 1970.
The team wore all black tops-and-pants uniform combination for the first time, and the players' white helmets had tributes to the 75 people lost in the plane crash 47 years ago: a `75' decal on one side of the helmet; a green stripe down the middle with the names of each person who perished; and individual decals on 75 different helmets of the players, coaches, pilots and community members who died.
A solemn, emotional video tribute played in the minutes before kickoff, and the coaches and players locked arms and slowly walked from the end zone to midfield together as the crowd cheered.
Then, as this program has been wont to do, the Thundering Herd paid tribute to the past with a win on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the crash. This time, Marshall defeated visiting Western Kentucky, 30-23, and shook off three years of struggles to get its seventh win of the season here Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"This really is an emotional game for us," said Doc Holliday, who coached his 100th game at Marshall and recorded his 60th win. "I'm happy for our fans and I'm happy we were able to honor the `75' the way we did."
Marshall had lost three consecutive games to WKU, and the Hilltoppers had averaged 58.7 points in those meetings.
"That wasn't a rivalry because we never beat them," Holliday said. "Now it is a rivalry because we've won that game."
Marshall eclipsed 30 points for the sixth time this season even without its two leading receivers - Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams. Both players started but exited in the first quarter with undisclosed injuries and did not return. That forced the offense to lean on transfer Obi Obialo, who has played sparingly this season, and Nick Mathews, who had not recorded a reception in 2017 before Saturday's game.
"It's a next-man-up mentality," said Ryan Yurachek, a senior tight end. "Obviously you never want to lose your top two receivers, but it's good when guys come in and perform."
Marshall received contributions from several young players, including freshman running back Tyler King, who finished with 102 rushing yards and a touchdown. Freshman Willie Johnson led the team with 48 receiving yards on four catches, and Mathews set career highs for receptions (four) and receiving yards (46).
"If you told me we'd lose Brady the first play of the game and lose Marcel - those are two of our weapons," Holliday said. "We had three freshmen starting on the offensive line. We had some young kids in there."
Marshall rallied from an early deficit to outscore WKU 30-3 from the 9:45 mark of the first quarter through the end of the third quarter. The Herd controlled the ball - the offense possessed the ball for 36:44 for the game - and kept the Hilltoppers on the sideline. Junior running back Keion Davis and King each scored on runs, and senior specialist Kaare Vedvik was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals.
The momentum swung heavily in Marshall's favor late in the third quarter when freshman defensive back Nazeeh Johnson stepped in front of a Mike White pass and intercepted it, and then raced 45 yards for his first career touchdown. That put the Herd up 27-10 with 1:37 left of the third quarter.
Another freshman, Jaquan Yulee, forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and set up Vedvik's career-best third field goal to make it 30-10 with 35 seconds left of the third quarter.
"That's a team we wanted to get a win against," Yurachek said. "With everything that's going on here the next three or four days (leading up to the anniversary of the crash), it was a special night, for sure.
"We lost the turnover battle the last two weeks and that's something we weren't happy with. We won the turnover battle tonight."
Marshall finished plus-two in turnovers after committed seven turnovers and forcing zero the past two weeks - both losses.
The Herd (7-3, 4-2 C-USA) put a stop to that skid after rallying in the first half. Marshall won the coin toss and deferred until the second half, so WKU (5-5, 3-3 C-USA) received the first opportunity. The Hilltoppers drove 73 yards in 11 plays before scoring on a 6-yard pass from White to wide receiver Quin Jernighan to make it 7-0.
The Herd defense took over from there.
WKU struggled the rest of the first half, and its offense had a trio of three-and-outs and managed zero first downs and 11 yards on nine plays against Marshall. That allowed the MU offense to grind out three scoring drives with the absence of Brady and Williams.
Marshall had three consecutive scoring drives to end the half, all of double-digit plays in length and more than five minutes in duration. Vedvik booted a 29-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 14:56 left of the second quarter. Following a three-and-out, the MU offense drove 65 yards in 11 plays before junior running back Keion Davis scored from 3 yards out to give the Herd a 10-7 lead with 7:29 left of the half.
Then, the Marshall offense milked six minutes and 14 seconds off the clock before Vedvik drilled another field goal, this time from 42 yards out, with 4 seconds left of the second quarter to give the Herd a 13-7 lead. That drive lasted 15 plays and covered 67 yards, and left no time for WKU to answer.
Marshall outgained WKU 196-89 in the first half, and had 14 first down to the visitors' four. The Herd controlled the ball, keeping possession for 21:10 of a possible 30:00. The offense endured the losses of Brady, the team's leading receiver, and Williams, MU's second-leading receiver. Brady caught one pass for 1 yard on the game's second play, but did not return. Williams started but did not catch a pass in the first half, and was eventually replaced with Mathews, who caught two passes for 30 yards in the first half.
The football program will continue to honor those who passed in the plane crash on the 47th anniversary this week, and then prepare to travel to play UTSA next Saturday.
"Anytime you play to honor the `75' and our history and all that, we've been able to play extremely well on that particular game," Holliday said. "It was huge because of all of the implications of the game."