In-state talent, strong offense and defense appearance boost Herd over Colonels

With the departure of Marshall’s former quarterback Isaiah Green, it was on the shoulders of redshirt freshman Grant Wells to show a nationally televised audience on ESPN what the Herd has been working on during the COVID-19 pandemic that has halted most sport play.

Marshall was just one of a few college football programs to take the field Saturday as it defeated the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels, 59-0, in its home opener at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

The Herd improved to 1-0 overall and EKU dropped to 0-1 on the season.

“I thought our kids came out and executed really well,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “When you got that offensive line out there, they’re a solid group. I know our quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in those guys and they went out there and got the job done today. I thought for a first game it was clean. Not a lot of penalties for one and we took care of the ball.”

Wells, the Charleston, West Virginia native, debuted his season with 16 completions on 23 attempts, 307 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. He tied the Marshall football record with those four touchdowns in a debut, along with Stan Hill and Chase Litton. Wells set the new Herd football record in passing yards in a quarterback’s debut, besting Stan Hill’s 292 yards against Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 12, 2002.

“It was great that we came out fast,” Wells said. “Historically, we play the best when we come out strong, especially when we score first.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback, Luke Zban, also made his debut, taking Wells’ place in the third quarter. The Huntington, West Virginia native finished with six completions on six attempts for 38 yards and one touchdown.

The Herd offense racked up 627 total yards, 345 passing yards and 282 rushing yards.

In the first quarter, redshirt senior tight end Xavier Gaines scored the first touchdown for Marshall with a 22-yard pass from Wells. Then, redshirt junior running back Brenden Knox scored on an eight-yard run to put the Herd up 14-0. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Talik Keaton received a 21-yard pass from Wells to extend the Herd’s lead, 21-0.

In the second quarter, redshirt senior tight end Garet Morrell had a two-yard pass from Wells to make the score 28-0. Then, redshirt sophomore kicker/punter Shane Ciucci completed a 23-yard field goal, putting the Herd up 31-0. Redshirt senior wide receiver Jaron Woodyard received a 42-yard pass from Wells to extend the Herd’s lead 38-0 going into halftime.

Going into the third quarter, redshirt junior running back Sheldon Evans had a six-yard run to lengthen Marshall’s lead 45-0. Redshirt sophomore running back Lawrence Papillon had a 13-yard touchdown run, making the score 52-0.

In the fourth quarter, with 4:02 left on the clock, redshirt freshman tight end Amir Richardson caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Zban, finishing the game with a final of 59-0.

Ciucci completed all extra point attempts for the Herd.

Sophomore running back Knowledge McDaniel led in rushing yards with 93 yards on 14 attempts. Knox followed behind with 85 rushing yards on 18 attempts and one touchdown. Sophomore wide receiver Broc Thompson led in receiving with five for 67 yards.

For the Herd defense, redshirt senior linebacker Tavante Beckett and sophomore linebacker Eli Neal led the way with eight tackles a piece. Redshirt senior safety Nazeeh Johnson followed with six.

Beckett said that having a fan presence at the Joan was motivating for him and the team.

“It was definitely motivating to have some people watching,” Beckett said. “It’s definitely a blessing to have people out there because some people can’t.”

The Colonels were led by quarterback Parker McKinney who had seven completions on 10 attempts for 71 yards and one interception.

On the Eastern Kentucky offense, 166 total yards were made, along with 80 passing yards and 86 rushing yards. Running back Quentin Pringle rushed 39 yards on six attempts, followed by running back Alonzo Booth going 33 yards on 15 attempts.

Up next for the Herd, it will have a week off before Appalachian State visits Huntington on Sept. 19.

Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Taylor Huddleston can be contacted at [email protected].