MCGILL: King has career day, but Herd drops C-USA game to MT

Updated 9 weeks ago Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

HerdZone.com

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Conference USA preseason football poll ranked two teams ahead of Middle Tennessee in the East Division: Florida Atlantic, the defending league champions, and Marshall.

After two games of conference play, the Blue Raiders sit alone in first place at 2-0. The victims: FAU and, after Friday night here inside Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Marshall.

MT scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to flip a halftime deficit into the program's first win in Huntington, 34-24, in front of 25,979 fans Friday night.

It looked as if Marshall (3-2, 1-1 C-USA) could overcome a new starting backfield –Alex Thomson made his first FBS start at quarterback and 2017 leading rusher Tyler King got the call at running back – but the Blue Raiders' veteran QB, Brent Stockstill, was too good from beginning to end.

"He made plays in the second half that we didn't make," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "He's maybe the best quarterback in our league. He wills himself to win."

Stockstill finished 25 for 40 passing with 317 yards and two touchdowns, and after being sacked five times in the first half, stayed clean in the final two quarters. That is when Stockstill helped flip a 17-10 deficit into a 34-17 lead with 6:23 left of the fourth quarter. Middle Tennessee outscored Marshall 14-0 in the third quarter, and outgained the Herd 140-59. Stockstill was 11 for 15 with 101 yards in the third quarter alone, while Marshall managed 3 yards through the air in the third period.

Marshall missed a 43-yard field goal attempt on its first possession of the second half that would have given the Herd a 20-10 lead on its visitors, but the kick sailed wide right and MT tied the game 3 minutes and 21 seconds later.

"It was very frustrating," King said. "We all thought we were going to be able to come back and get to win. Despite the individual mess-ups … we took that loss as a team. We took that as a team. We're going to get ready and go back to work."

King's career day was wasted in defeat. He finished with 165 yards on 27 carries, the first 100-yard game by a Herd runner this season and the fifth such game of his two-year collegiate career. He eclipsed his previous career high – 129 yards against Middle Tennessee a year ago – by halftime, igniting the Marshall offense as Thomson tried to get acclimated to his first game situation in 391 days.

Thomson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior, last played against St. Francis as the quarterback at FCS Wagner College on Sept. 9, 2017, but he was injured in that game and never played again for the school. He completed his first pass as a Herd QB at 8:15 p.m., about 40 minutes after kickoff, and finished 17 of 34 with 173 yards and two touchdowns. Thomson was given the start after Isaiah Green was injured on his game-winning touchdown pass last Saturday at Western Kentucky.

Thomson was sacked six times, and he threw one interception.

"They bring a lot of pressure, so our game plan was to run the ball," Thomson said. "We were doing a really good job of that. Miscommunication up front between me and the running back led to some sacks. We got into some third downs and weren't able to convert."

The Herd had a season-best performance running the ball, gaining 209 yards on the ground on 53 carries. After halftime, Marshall gained 42 yards.

"We ran the ball pretty well at times," Holliday said.

But not enough.

Stockstill connected with running back Tavares Thomas for an 18-yard touchdown with 11:35 left of the fourth quarter to give the Blue Raiders a two-touchdown lead. A field goal five minutes later made it 34-17, and the Herd's final touchdown was too little, too late.

Middle Tennessee (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) struck first on the opening possession of the game, a 15-play, 59-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Crews Holt. The Blue Raiders marched to the MU 3, but a false start penalty on the visitors was followed by a sack by junior defensive end Ty Tyler, who beat the left tackle to bring down Stockstill at the 16-yard line.

Marshall evened the score at 3-3 on a 33-yard field goal by junior kicker Justin Rohrwasser. Then, the Herd took the lead on a 1-yard plunge by senior running back Anthony Anderson, his third on the ground this season.

MT tied the game a second time, at 10-10, when Stockstill scrambled to the right and raced into the end zone untouched from 5 yards out. That left only 1:09 on the clock for the Marshall offense to try and regain the lead before halftime.

The Herd answered.

Thomson engineered an eight-play, 66-yard drive in 52 seconds, and found Levias for the touchdown over the middle to make it 17-10 at the half.

Middle Tennessee dominated the third quarter, flipping momentum.

The Blue Raiders tied the game for the third time, 17-17, with 8:20 left of the third quarter. Stockstill led the MT offense on a 12-play, 74-yard drive that culminated with a Stockstill 2-yard pass to Patrick Smith. The Marshall defense had a pair of penalty setbacks on the drive – a roughing the passer call and pass interference at the goalline – that helped put Middle Tennessee in position to score.

After a four-play drive by Marshall, the Blue Raiders put together the go-ahead drive that concluded with a fourth-and-1 touchdown run by Thomas from 8 yards out. Thomas took the pitch from Stockstill and raced to the left, untouched, to put MT ahead, 24-17, with 2:00 left of the third quarter.

In addition to King's breakout performance in place of the injured Davis, Anderson finished with a season-high 77 yards on 17 carries. Senior receiver Tyre Brady led Herd receivers with 58 yards on six receptions, and junior Obi Obialo had six catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Marshall's Friday night game was the final one under the lights this season. The Herd hits the road next weekend to play Old Dominion on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Monarchs will be returning home after playing at defending champ FAU on Saturday.

That game, too, will have C-USA East Division implications in early October, but the rest of the league will not only have to take care of business, but hope Middle Tennessee slips up after an impressive start.

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).

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