Herd football claims C-USA victory over Western Kentucky

Redshirt+senior+running+back+Anthony+Anderson+%28right%29+and+junior+long+snapper+Matt+Beardall+%28left%29+lead+the+Herd+out+of+the+tunnel+before+Marshall%27s+2018+home+opener.+
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Herd football claims C-USA victory over Western Kentucky

Redshirt senior running back Anthony Anderson (right) and junior long snapper Matt Beardall (left) lead the Herd out of the tunnel before Marshall's 2018 home opener.

Redshirt senior running back Anthony Anderson (right) and junior long snapper Matt Beardall (left) lead the Herd out of the tunnel before Marshall's 2018 home opener.

Richard Crank

Redshirt senior running back Anthony Anderson (right) and junior long snapper Matt Beardall (left) lead the Herd out of the tunnel before Marshall's 2018 home opener.

Richard Crank

Richard Crank

Redshirt senior running back Anthony Anderson (right) and junior long snapper Matt Beardall (left) lead the Herd out of the tunnel before Marshall's 2018 home opener.

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Isaiah Green orchestrated a 98-yard drive in the final minutes Saturday in Bowling Green, Kentucky and led Marshall to a 20-17 win over Western Kentucky in the Thundering Herd’s Conference USA opener.

“Any time you can go on the road against a good football team and find a way to win, you have to be happy,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.

Green completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions but made plays when the game was on the line. The redshirt freshman quarterback completed 4 of 5 passes on Marshall’s final drive. The 98-yard drive, capped by a 32-yard pass to senior wide receiver Tyre Brady, secured a comeback win.

“(Green) is going to grow up a lot now,” Holliday said. “He found a way to win the game and that’s all that matters.”

The Hilltoppers had an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead in the last minute of the game. The Hilltoppers’ threat was sparked by WKU quarterback Steven Duncan, who found sophomore wide receiver Jacquez Sloan for a 60-yard gain to the Marshall 20-yard line. Four plays later, Marshall senior defensive lineman Ryan Bee forced a Duncan fumble that was recovered by redshirt senior Juwon Young. Green then took the field for the final snap that sealed the Herd’s second road win of the season.

“It’s a play I wish I could have back,” Duncan said. “Instead of just being greedy, just eat the ball and throw it out of the back of the end zone. Just one more play that I wish I could have back.”

Duncan was 24 of 39 for 263 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity in both phases—offense and defense—to finish,” WKU head coach Mike Sanford said. “We have to finish in those situations. (Marshall) went 98 yards on a drive to win the game. We had an opportunity on the 10-yard line offensively to win the game but we have to take care of the football.”

Marshall opened the scoring on a one-play drive midway through the first quarter. After a short punt, Green hit Brady in stride for a 40-yard touchdown. The touchdown pass was Marshall’s only first down of the quarter.

After WKU redshirt senior kicker Ryan Nuss made a short field goal to cut Marshall’s lead to 7-3, the Thundering Herd turned the ball over on its next two drives. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Willie Johnson fumbled on an option play to end a drive inside the Hilltopper 30-yard line. Then, Green threw an interception to redshirt junior Ta’Corian Darden on the Herd’s next offensive play. Marshall committed four turnovers in the game, two in each half.

“We turned the ball over way too much,” Holliday said. “At the end of the day, when you turn the ball over four times and find a way to win, that’s unusual. We have a lot of corrections to make.”

The Hilltoppers took their first lead of the game late in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Duncan to cap a 75-yard drive. Marshall then responded with redshirt junior kicker Justin Rohrwasser’s 35-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half. The kick sent the teams to halftime tied at 10.

Marshall received the ball to start the second half and had a chance to take the lead in its first drive of the third quarter. However, Marshall’s special teams trouble continued when Rohrwaser’s 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked by redshirt senior defensive lineman Julien Lewis to keep the score knotted at 10.

The Herd gained momentum early in the fourth quarter when it forced its first turnover of the contest. Redshirt senior linebacker Donyae Moody forced a fumble by WKU redshirt freshman running back Joshua Samuel that was recovered by Marshall redshirt senior linebacker Frankie Hernandez. The Herd capitalized on the turnover and took the lead on a Rohrwasser 21-yard field goal.

“I had to step up and make a play for us to get the ball, so that’s what I did,” Moody said.

Marshall’s momentum continued and it forced a second consecutive Hilltopper turnover. Duncan overthrew redshirt sophomore tight end Kyle Fourtenbary and was intercepted by redshirt sophomore safety Nazeeh Johnson, who returned the ball into WKU territory.

“The turnover just came to me,” Johnson said. “I was running the wrong coverage. I ran Cover 7 and it was a Cover 3 concept. I just got put in that position, to be honest. I was in the right place at the right time.”

The Herd responded with a turnover of its own when Green threw an interception to WKU’s redshirt senior defensive back DeAndre Farris, who returned the ball to the Marshall 11-yard line. Duncan then targeted redshirt senior tight end Mik’Quan Deane with a shovel pass for an 11-yard touchdown on the next play. The Hilltoppers took the 17-13 lead.

On Marshall’s next drive, Green threw his third interception of the game to redshirt senior linebacker Masai Whyte, who caught the ball off Brady’s hands and returned it to the Marshall 28-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the interception return pushed the Hilltoppers out of potential field goal range.

After starting the next drive on his own 2-yard line, Green found junior wide receiver Obi Obialo for a 20-yard gain on third down. Then, Green completed a pass to redshirt junior tight end Armani Levias for 35 yards. A pair of subsequent short gains set up Green’s game-winning touchdown pass to Brady, who beat his defender on a slant route before reaching the end zone.

“To go through all the mistakes we did and still be able to go out there and put together a drive like that, that was great by (Green),” Brady said. “Coach just called my number. My teammates came to me and said ‘we need this one.’ We had man coverage and I broke the tackle and took it to the house.”

Bee’s first-career forced fumble ensured that the Herd left with its first win in Bowling Green since 1950.

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Bee said. “I was just doing my job. I was coming off the edge and (Duncan) flushed up. I have 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.”

Following its win over WKU (1-4, 0-1 Conference USA), the Herd (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) has a short turnaround with a weekday home game at 7:30 p.m. Friday against
Middle Tennessee.

Kieran Intemann can be contacted at [email protected]

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