Sack-fumble seals Herd victory
MARCH 20, WESTERN KENTUCKY 17
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — All night long, Marshall University’s defense kept the Thundering Herd in the game.
And just when it seemed as though the Herd had made a mistake, Marshall again came up with a big play to win it.
Marshall defensive tackle Ryan Bee hit Western Kentucky University quarterback Steven Duncan, forcing a fumble Juwon Young recovered inside the 10-yard line with seconds remaining to give the Herd a wild 20-17 win Saturday night in front of 20,811 spectators at Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium.
“We’ve got a lot of corrections that we’ve got to make, but any time you can go on the road and win against a good football team, you’ve got to be happy,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
Bee’s play came after Western Kentucky moved inside the 10-yard line after Duncan found Jacquez Sloan behind the defense for a 60-yard gain.
That long gain came after Marshall had taken the lead with less than two minutes left.
“I was coming off the edge and he flushed up,” Bee said. “I’ve got to give credit to the rest of the defensive line. They pushed him out of the pocket and I was able to counter back and strip him. It was a team effort.”
The final play capped a game full of mistakes on both sides in the rivalry affair.
Marshall (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) had a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers that allowed WKU to score the go-ahead touchdown. However, Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green found Tyre Brady for a 32-yard touchdown with 1:44 left to put the Herd back in front. The play capped a 7-play, 98-yard drive in which Green found three different receivers for gains of more than 20 yards each.
It overcame an up-and-down day for Green, who was injured on the touchdown pass to Brady. Green finished 18 of 39 passing for 288 yards with two touchdowns — both to Brady — and three interceptions.
Brady hauled in eight passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. His final catch made up for a pass that bounced off his hands and into the grasp of Western Kentucky’s Masai Whyte earlier in the fourth quarter.
“I knew I had to make up for that play,” Brady said. “My team counted on me and they knew I was going to get it back.”
Marshall had a pair of critical turnovers in the fourth quarter that gave the Hilltoppers the break needed to temporarily take the lead.
With the Herd up by a field goal, Marshall defensive back Nazeeh Johnson intercepted Duncan, giving the Herd a chance to run clock with the lead late in the game. However, Green threw an ill-advised pass back across his body on first-and-25 and the pass deflected to WKU’s DeAndre Ferris, who returned it to the Marshall 11.
One play later, Western Kentucky (1-4, 0-1) found the end zone when Duncan hit Mik’Quan Deane with a shovel pass and Deane walked in for a score.
It was one of four turnovers that proved costly for the Herd. All of the turnovers came in Western Kentucky territory.
“We can’t turn the ball over (four) times and expect to win the game,” Holliday said. “We just can’t do that.”
The wild flurry to end the game was a contrast to the rest of the action with missed scoring chances on both sides.
The teams went to the half-time locker room tied 10-10 following two quarters when both offenses struggle to get anything going.
Green connected with Brady and Obi Obialo with less than two minutes left in the first half that led to Justin Rohrwasser’s 35-yard field goal that knotted the score. However, a holding call on the drive spoiled a chance for the Herd to take the lead after having a first down at the Hilltoppers’ 11-yard line.
Mistakes were constant in the first half for Marshall, which had a fumble and an interception on back-to-back drives in Western Kentucky territory after the defense stood tall to give the offense possession in good field position.
As was the case against N.C. State last week, the Herd was unable to sustain drives based largely on its inability to put together an early rushing attack.
Instead, the Marshall offense was feast or famine with 125 of its 142 first-half yards coming on just five plays — three of which were Green completions to Brady.
Green hit just five of 15 passes in the first half, but did open the scoring with a 40-yard touchdown to Brady after misdirection on a faked wide receiver reverse to Willie Johnson. The fake action froze the safeties and Brady ran in behind them to haul in the score.
Following that score, Western Kentucky got going behind Duncan, who overcame early issues to put together a strong drive to give the Hilltoppers the lead.
After a 23-yard field goal for the Hilltoppers by Ryan Nuss cut the deficit to 7-3 late in the first quarter, Duncan put Western Kentucky in front on a 3-yard touchdown run with 4:38 left in the first half. Duncan had the key play of the drive when he hit tight end Mik’Quan Deane for a 43-yard gain on a seam route with Western Kentucky facing third-and-14 at its own 21.
As bad as the Herd was on the ground, the rushing production still exceeded that of the Hilltoppers, who rushed for just nine yards on 17 carries in the first half. The Hilltoppers finished with just 61 yards rushing.
Duncan finished the game 24 of 39 for 263 passing yards.