MCGILL: Herd Dominates Middle Tennessee in Honor of '75'|
Nov. 13, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The all-around performance by the Marshall football team in a convincing 42-17 rout of Middle Tennessee on Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium made it seem like the home team had 86 players against the visitors’ 11.
“We were kind of cheatin’,” sophomore quarterback Chase Litton said. “We had 75 angels playing for us.”
Saturday night’s game was played two days before the 46th anniversary of the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash that claimed 75 Marshall football players, coaches, staff, flight crew and community members. The team wore special white helmets with 75 on the back – in remembrance of those who passed in the tragedy – and throwback decals on each side in honor of the 1971 “Young” Thundering Herd.
The team responded in a big way, outscoring the visitors 28-0 in the second half en route to the 25-point win.
“That was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “We had some guys step up. Our quarterback was sensational. We were plus-four in turnover margin; took it away from them four times. We didn’t turn it over. We were able to run the ball extremely well and made good decisions out there.”
Litton tossed four touchdowns without an interception. For the first time in Holliday’s 88 games as a head coach at MU the team had at least four turnovers forced with nary a turnover on offense. It was the Herd’s best team rushing performance against an FBS opponent this season (207 yards on 41 carries), while the Marshall defense suffocated Middle Tennessee’s offense (283 yards of total offense, the first time under 300 yards in the last 20 games) and stymied star running back I’Tavius Mathers (season-low 45 rushing yards).
“It’s scary. I wouldn’t want to play us on this day,” Litton said. “I wouldn’t want to play us with these jerseys on and that 75 on our helmet.”
Marshall (3-7, 2-4 Conference USA) started strong, halting Middle Tennessee’s opening drive when senior defensive back Terry Richardson intercepted MT quarterback John Urzua and returned it 26 yards. Four plays and 39 yards later the Herd took a 7-0 lead on Hyleck Foster’s 3-yard touchdown run – Foster’s first rushing score of the season.
Middle Tennessee (6-4, 3-3 C-USA) scored 10 unanswered points to take the lead, but the Herd bounced back when Litton found Justin Hunt for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 9:17 left of the second quarter. Hunt tied a career-high with five receptions, set a new career-high with 87 receiving yards and added a 28-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter for another score.
Hunt’s second touchdown reception was the go-ahead score and jumpstarted the Herd’s dominant second half.
Middle Tennessee had as many second half first downs (four) as Marshall had second half touchdowns. The Herd defense held the Blue Raiders to 88 total yards of offense in the final two quarters, and the home team started seeing an onslaught of season-best individual performances.
Running back Anthony Anderson pushed the lead to double digits, 28-17, when he scored from 15 yards out with 13:23 left of the fourth quarter. Anderson finished with a career high 109 yards on 16 carries. Fellow running back Tony Pittman added a season high 88 yards on 15 carries.
Senior receiver Josh Knight made it 35-17 when he caught a 9-yard scoring pass from Litton. Foster started and ended the scoring, the latter of his two scores coming on a 22-yard pass from Litton on fourth down and 7. That made it 42-17 with 6:24 left.
“I’m so happy on this occasion that our guys were able to rally like they did and play like that,” Holliday said. “I’m happy for our fan base, our community and our school to be able to come out on this occasion with the 75 on their helmet, honoring the Young Thundering Herd and to play the way we played. We have to continue that for the next couple of weeks.”
Defensively, senior safety Corey Neely finished with a career-high 13 tackles and played a part in forcing two turnovers: one on an acrobatic interception and the other with a forced fumble. Holliday was stunned by Neely’s interception.
“It’s amazing that when you put that 75 on your helmet, they seem to make plays they haven’t made,” Holliday said.
Marshall plays at FIU next Saturday before concluding the regular season at home Nov. 26 against WKU. Holliday wants his team to seize the momentum from Saturday’s special night and carry it through the final two games.
“That game right there is going to help us as a football team moving forward,” Holliday said of the win against Middle Tennessee. “We had a lot of young guys out there who had a lot of success and at the end of the day they felt pretty good about themselves in that locker room.”