Herd Sets-Up C-USA Showdown After Routing Charlotte

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone
Herd Sets-Up C-USA Showdown After Routing Charlotte

By Chuck McGill

Charlotte, N.C. – In Marshall's previous two trips to Jerry Richardson Stadium, the Thundering Herd offense found the end zone twice in eight quarters.

On Saturday evening at Jerry Richardson Stadium, the Thundering Herd made up for lost time.

The Marshall offense scored seven touchdowns and the Herd rallied from an early deficit to defeat host Charlotte, 49-28, and remain in the race for the Conference USA East Division title. Marshall, which is now 7-4 overall and 5-2 in C-USA, will face division leader Western Kentucky (7-4, 6-1) next Saturday, Nov. 27, at 3:30 p.m. The winner of the Herd-Hilltoppers matchup will earn a trip to the C-USA Championship, which is set for Friday, Dec. 3 at a site to be determined.

Marshall scored five rushing touchdowns – three by Rasheen Ali and two by Sheldon Evans – and quarterback Grant Wells had few blemishes in guiding visitors to nearly 600 total yards of offense. The Herd defense had answers for Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds, who was held to 176 passing yards a week after he threw for 448 against Louisiana Tech.

Marshall won the coin toss and deferred its decision until the second half, and Charlotte – on its Senior Day – capitalized on the opportunity. Keith Pearson toe-tapped along the back of the end zone on a 6-yard toss from Reynolds to end a 16-play, 75-yard drive that opened the scoring.

Charlotte (5-6, 3-4 C-USA) struggled from there.

Ali answered on Marshall's first possession, bursting through a hole and racing untouched for a 25-yard touchdown to even the score. Ali put the Herd ahead – albeit temporarily – when he scored from 5 yards out to push the lead to 14-7 with 12:12 left of the second quarter.

Charlotte tied the game again with 4:13 left of the second quarter, this time on a 21-yard pass from Reynolds to Cameron Dollar to make it 14-14.

The Herd offense needed only three plays and 47 seconds to regain the lead when Wells looked down the left sideline and found a wide open Corey Gammage for a 64-yard scoring connection. That was Gammage's longest reception of his career, and his second score in as many weeks.

Marshall missed a field goal in the waning moments of the first half that would have pushed the lead to double digits.

The Herd kept its foot on the gas in the second half, scoring quickly to double its lead from 7 points to 14. Wells found senior tight end Xavier Gaines over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 28-14 with 11:49 left of the third quarter.

Wells' final stat line had few blemishes, as he completed 21 of 28 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

But it was Ali who continued to rewrite record books and move up the all-time lists.

The freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, rushed 23 times for 203 yards, moving into the top five in school history in rushing touchdowns in a single season. Ali also surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, the 13th different MU player to accomplish the feat, and rushed for at least 100 yards for the fifth time this season. Although Ali scored three times, it was his 59-yard run in the third quarter that was his most breathtaking carry of the day. After that run, fellow running back Sheldon Evans finished the drive with a 15-yard run, pushing the Herd's lead to 35-14 with 7:45 left of the third.

Although Charlotte tallied two early touchdowns, the Marshall defense turned it up after that. The Herd forced and recovered a fumble late in the first half, and then senior safety Nazeeh Johnson came away with an interception in the third quarter. Marshall outscored Charlotte 21-0 in the third quarter as the game shifted from nail-biter to rout.

Marshall outgained Charlotte 588-364. In addition to Ali, Evans carried nine times for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Gammage led all receivers with 78 yards. MU punter Robert LeFevre was seldom needed, only punting one time.

Defensive backs Cory McCoy and Steven Gilmore led the way with nine tackles each. Although the Herd defense allowed six fourth down conversions, the 49ers struggled on third down, going 4 for 14.