Finley, Wolfpack silence Herd with big first half
HUNTINGTON — The first-half performance of N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley left Marshall University staggered.
Then, after the Thundering Herd landed a few punches of its own to get back in it, N.C. State’s Jarius Morehead landed the game’s knockout blow.
Morehead returned an Isaiah Green interception 57 yards to end Marshall’s comeback hopes as the Wolfpack earned a 37-20 win over the Herd in front of 32,349 spectators Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“Obviously, we didn’t play well enough to win that football game,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “I think that’s an excellent football team that we just played. We made too many mistakes — had a couple of turnovers that we don’t normally have.”
It was the second straight year N.C. State defeated the Herd by that score.
Morehead’s interception came at a time when Marshall (2-1) had a bit of momentum as it tried to get back into the contest.
Trailing by 10, the Herd got a rare defensive stop and had possession at its own 43 in prime position to cut N.C. State’s lead to one possession.
However, N.C. State (3-0) got pressure on Green, whose throw to Obi Obialo sailed. Morehead camped under it and tightroped the sideline before going in untouched for the score.
Holliday called a timeout after the return in hopes
of getting a review, but the replay booth didn’t ring down to the officials on the field to take a look at it.
“We had it to a one-possession game there at one time in the second half, which was huge,” Holliday said. “I thought he stepped out of bounds on that return but, obviously, I guess the replay official didn’t think that. We’ll take a look at it (Sunday) and see.”
The play came late in a third quarter when the Herd fought to get back into the game after trailing by 16 at the half.
Marshall’s third-quarter push came as the Herd scored 10 points in nine seconds after a big special-teams play from Jaquan Yulee.
Following a 32-yard field goal by Justin Rohrwasser, Yulee drilled C.J. Riley on a kickoff return, forcing a fumble that Artis Johnson returned 22 yards for a score to pull the Herd within 23-17.
“We needed a big turnover or something that was going to change the game,” Yulee said. “It came down and I was a lucky guy that made the play.”
However, Finley showed his poise under pressure on the next N.C. State drive, connecting on a 32-yard pass to Stephen Louis before hitting Emeka Emezie for a 30-yard score that settled things for the Wolfpack.
Emezie’s catch came on a beautiful double move when he turned around safety Brandon Drayton before running free in the middle of the field.
Finley finished the game 23 of 40 passing for 377 yards and one touchdown while not turning the ball over for the Wolfpack.
The first half was a clinic on both sides of the football for N.C. State, who used a 26-yard field goal by Christopher Dunn on the final play before halftime to take a 23-7 lead into the locker room.
Dunn’s field goal was set up by a Marshall fumble on a fourth-and-2 play in Wolfpack territory as the Herd tried to cut into the N.C. State lead late in the half. On the play, it appeared Green and running back Keion Davis collided and the ball popped out into the hands of Nick McCloud, who returned the ball to the N.C. State 44.
From there, the Wolfpack used the arm of Finley to work the ball downfield as he consistently beat the Marshall defense en route to 286 yards passing in the first half.
After three straight incompletions ended Finley’s first drive of the game, he got the Wolfpack into a rhythm, leading N.C. State to scores on the final five drives of the half.
N.C. State jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the strength of a 30-yard field goal by Dunn — one of three he had in the first half — and a 1-yard touchdown run by Reggie Gallaspy on the first play of the second quarter.
Marshall responded quickly, getting its lone score of the half on an 82-yard touchdown pass from Green to Marcel Williams, but it would be the only points for the Herd, which was unable to sustain drives against the N.C. State defense.
The Herd had a bit of momentum following Williams’ catch, but the defense couldn’t get off the field as N.C. State answered with another 1-yard scoring run by Gallaspy. Finley was the catalyst, finding Kelvin Harmon for a 39-yard completion and running back Trent Pennix out of the backfield on a third-down conversion.
Finley has been solid on third down throughout the season. N.C. State came in converting 60 percent and was near their mark again, converting 9 of 17 opportunities against the Herd defense.
“That’s what good teams do,” Holliday said. “They’ve got good receivers and they’ve got a quarterback that’s fifth or sixth year (senior). He’s an excellent player.”
With N.C. State focused on taking away Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady, the Herd’s inability to get its rushing attack going proved costly as the Wolfpack took the insurmountable lead.
Marshall’s offense was onedimensional with only 54 rushing yards in the contest. Brady, who caught 11 passes for 248 yards against N.C. State a year ago, was also a non-factor with three catches for 25 yards.
“Of course, a lot of teams are going to try to take Tyre out of the equation, but knowing what Tyre did to N.C. State last year, I think they put a little extra emphasis on him,” Green said. “They were all over him tonight — two or three guys sometimes.”
Green struggled to get into a rhythm outside of the long ball to Williams, finishing 22 of 42 for 270 yards. However, he had three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble.
The Herd looks to get back on track next week in the Conference USA opener set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Western Kentucky.