Late TD, Forced Turnover Lifts Herd Over WKU

Updated 10 weeks ago Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone
Late TD, Forced Turnover Lifts Herd Over WKU
Photo: Herd Zone/Rick Haye

By Chuck McGill

Courtesy HerdZone.com

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The offense sputtered. The turnovers mounted. The will of the Marshall football team never ceased.

Isaiah Green, who had tossed three interceptions and guided an offense that struggled to find consistency, engineered a seven-play, 98-yard go-ahead scoring drive in the twilight of the fourth quarter, and then the Thundering Herd defense forced a turnover with host Western Kentucky threatening in the red zone to escape with a 20-17 win here Saturday in front of 20,811 at Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium.  

"That's by far one of the most emotional games I've played in," Marshall junior offensive lineman Levi Brown said. "There were so many ebbs and flows, ups and downs, you never knew what was coming next. A lot of things were ugly. It wasn't how we drew it up.

"It was nothing perfect by any means. But you can fix anything on Monday except for a loss. We walked out with a 'W' and we're happy about that."

Marshall evened the all-time series with rival WKU 5-5, and captured a win in the series for the second consecutive season. Saturday's win was the first for Marshall in Bowling Green, Kentucky, since Oct. 7, 1950 – nearly 68 years ago.

And the Herd did it against statistical odds. The offense committed four turnovers and did not convert a third down in the first half. A field goal was blocked. Nine of 16 drives generated 15 yards or fewer of offense.

"We turned the ball over way too much," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "If you turn the over four times and find a way to win, that's unusual. We have a lot of corrections we have to make. Anytime you can go on the road against a good football team and find a way to win, you have to be happy."

WKU set up the end-game scenario with a go-ahead touchdown with 6:50 left of the fourth quarter. Starting quarterback Steven Duncan connected with Mik'Quan Deane for an 11-yard score that made it 17-13 with 6:50 left.

Green followed up that touchdown with an interception, making the Herd's outlook seem bleak. But the MU defense responded by forcing a three-and-out, and WKU punted to the Marshall 2 with 4:23 left. Green then started clicking with his receivers with the offense's back against the wall, hitting junior receiver Obi Obialo for a 20-yard gain on third-and-5, and then tight end Armani Levias on the next play to put the Herd into WKU territory.

Three plays later, Green found his go-to target – senior Tyre Brady – for a 32-yard touchdown and a 20-17 lead.

"The young kid, he's going to grow up a lot now," Holliday said. "He's going to continue to grow up. He found a way to win the game, which is what matters."

On the ensuing possession, WKU marched to the Herd's 10-yard line, but senior defensive lineman Ryan Bee stripped Duncan and the ball was recovered by senior defensive end Juwon Young to end the game.

"They played their hearts out," Holliday said of the defense.

Marshall opened scoring with a one-play drive in the first quarter. After starting at the WKU 40-yard line, Green carried out a couple of fakes before perfectly placing a ball into the outstretched arms of Brady, who cruised into the end zone untouched for his fourth touchdown of the season.

The Herd offense sputtered the rest of the opening quarter. Senior running back Keion Davis had carries of 4 and 3 yards on the opening possession, but other than the Green-to-Brady connection, those were the only plays that produced positive yards for the visitors in the opening 15 minutes.

Green passed to sophomore receiver Willie Johnson for a 2-yard loss to open the third drive, but that was followed by a pair of incompletions. Green had two incompletions and was sacked on the team's fourth possession.

The offensive woes weren't cured in the second quarter. After a WKU field goal made it 7-3, Marshall took over on its own 26. Six plays later, a fumble gave the Hilltoppers the ball and a chance to take the lead. WKU was stopped on fourth at the 50-yard line, but Green threw an interception on the next play.

The Hilltoppers took their first lead with 4:38 left of the first half when quarterbackDuncan kept the ball for a 3-yard touchdown. That capped a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive that followed a Herd three-and-out. On WKU's drive, Duncan connected with Deane for a 43-yard gain, a Herd defensive pass interference advanced the ball 15 more yards, and then Quin Jernighan set up the QB score with a 14-yard reception from Duncan.

Outside of MU's touchdown play, the offense totaled 41 yards on seven drives through the first 25 minutes of the game.

Marshall closed out the half with a six-play, 38-yard drive that took 1:09, and ended with a 35-yard field goal from junior kicker Justin Rohrwasser.

The Herd entered the locker room tied at 10-10 even though the offense managed five first downs and was 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the opening two quarters. Marshall was also on the wrong end of the turnover margin – minus-two – and WKU held nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession (19:28 to 10:32).

Green completed 18 of 39 passes for a career-high 288 yards and two touchdowns. Davis gained 65 yards on the ground to lead the team, and sophomore Tyler King added 42 yards, including a late 20-yarder that is the longest rush by an MU running back this season.

Brady had a game-high eight catches for 162 yards and two scores. Obialo finished with four receptions for 80 yards.

The defense was led by sophomore safety Brandon Drayton's eight tackles. Bee added two sacks, while senior linebacker Frankie Hernandez and junior defensive end Ty Tyler also had a sack apiece. Sophomore safety Nazeeh Johnson had his second career interception as the Herd defense forced three turnovers.

Overall, the Herd defense held WKU to 324 yards of offense and an average of 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a six-time winner of the National Sports Media Association West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award. In addition to HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, McGill is the editor of Thundering Herd Illustrated, Marshall's official athletics publication. Follow him on Twitter (@chuckmcgill) and Instagram (wordontheherd).

  1. Game Stats (PDF) (63.16 KB)
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