Marshall Opens C-USA Play at Middle Tennessee Oct. 2.

HERD ZONE: McGill - Herd Falls at App State

By Chuck McGill

Charles Huff's first month as Marshall's head football coach came to an end in Boone, North Carolina, on Thursday night.

There were highs – a 2-0 start and the unveiling of one of the most explosive offenses in the country. And there were lows – like the fourth quarters played within the past six days, when the Herd saw leads to East Carolina and Appalachian State evaporate. The latter happened Thursday, a 31-30 heartbreaking defeat to the Mountaineers. Marshall (2-2) held a 30-21 advantage entering the final 15 minutes.

We all have to be better," Huff said. "We have to finish the game out better in all three phases."

A short six days ago, the Herd led visiting ECU, 38-21, with 7:31 left. The Pirates scored three unanswered touchdowns and escaped Huntington with a come-from-behind win.

On Thursday night, Marshall freshman running back Rasheen Ali – with quite the offensive line escort – into the end zone from 8 yards out to put the Herd up, 30-21, with 4:16 left of the third quarter. MU held the same advantage when the fourth quarter began, but 51 seconds into the final frame, App State quarterback Chase Brice connected with receiver Corey Sutton for a 28-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 2 points.

With 5:45 left of the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers (3-1) drilled a 45-yard field goal to take the lead.

So, Marshall enters Conference USA play on a two-game losing skid, but Huff is undeterred after one month patrolling the sidelines. The Herd entered Thursday night with one of the country's best offenses – No. 2 in total offense, No. 3 in passing offense and No. 10 in scoring offense. Last season, Marshall ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense, and most of those pieces are back in 2021.

Huff remained optimistic as the Herd enters an eight-game stretch of conference games.

"We'll lick our wounds," he said. "We're resilient. We'll be back. We've got a good football team. We're not shaken, not wavered. We lost a game to a good football team. It's not a failure. It's a learning experience.

"We learned a lot from these first four games. We called it our foundation setting. We learned a lot from the first two, we learned a lot from the last two. Now we've got to turn our focus on fixing the things we learned and improving the other things we learned."

App State struck first Thursday night when Camerun Peoples scored from 1 yard out to make it 7-0.

Last year's starting kicker, Shane Ciucci, made his first contributions to the Herd this season and booted field goals from 22 and 33 yards in the first quarter to shrink the deficit to 1 point. Marshall pulled ahead when freshman quarterback Grant Wells laid a ball over the out-stretched hands of an App State defender, and senior tight end Xavier Gaines shed a would-be tackler and raced 56 yards for the touchdown and the lead.

The Mountaineers regained the lead on another short Peoples touchdown, and then the Herd answered quickly on a kickoff return that became the talk of social media across the country. On the play, Ali faked a handoff and raced 97 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Peoples scored a third time with four seconds before halftime to give App State the lead again.

The Herd appeared to take control from there, using a career long field goal of 46 yards from Ciucci and Ali's second overall touchdown of the game for a 9-point lead. The Mountaineers scored the final 10 points to secure the win.

Wells finished 18 for 33 passing for 270 yards and one touchdown. He also added 20 rushing yards.

Ali carried 17 times for a team-high 83 yards. The star running back has 10 combined touchdowns – eight rushing, one receiving and one on a return – two more than any other non-quarterback in major college football.

Gaines had his first career 100-yard receiving game, catching five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown – his first of the season. Receiver Shadeed Ahmed posted career highs in receptions (four) and yards (81).

Linebackers Abraham Beauplan (13) and Eli Neal (12) led the team in tackles. Neal also recorded a forced fumble and fumble recovery, while cornerback Micah Abraham logged an interception.

Marshall opens C-USA play at Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 2. Kickoff in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is set for 7 p.m.

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a nine-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).