Marshall defeats Purdue 41-31 in season opener

Marshall University’s football team defeated Purdue University 41-31 Sunday in its first time hosting a Big Ten Conference school at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

The game, which saw a record number of fans turn out (38,791), started the same way it ended — with Marshall safety Tiquan Lang sprinting into the end zone, returning an interception for a touchdown.

On the first play of the game, Lang, a junior, intercepted Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby’s pass and returned it 30 yards to give Marshall a quick 7-0 lead with 14:53 remaining in the first quarter.

The Boilermakers answered back on the next drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back D.J. Knox, who rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries for the day.

With just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Marshall quarterback Michael Birdsong threw his first touchdown pass as a member of the Herd. Birdsong, a redshirt junior, completed a 20-yard pass to senior running back Devon Johnson to give the team a 14-7 lead.

The Herd extended its lead after a 42-yard field goal completion by kicker Nick Smith, a redshirt sophomore, to make it 17-7 with 3:00 remaining in the first quarter.

Appleby responded, leading the Boilermakers 75 yards up-field in only six plays and throwing his first touchdown pass of the game to senior Danny Anthrop on a 9-yard completion. The Boilermakers’ score cut the Herd’s lead to 17-14.

Purdue’s drive wrapped up the first quarter.

The second quarter of play saw far less action than the first.

The Boilermakers scored the only points of the quarter after Appleby ran it in from the 1-yard line on a quarterback sneak with 7:35 remaining to make it 21-17.

Purdue took its first lead of the game into halftime.

The Herd finally got back on the scoreboard just over three minutes into the third quarter. Birdsong’s 1-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek ended the team’s nearly 20-minute drought since its last score and gave the Herd a 24-21 lead.

Markell Jones, the Boilermakers’ running back, helped the team retake the lead after a 36-yard touchdown run on the next drive to make it 28-21. The freshman rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries in his college debut.

Despite good field position, the Herd was forced to settle for a field goal on the next drive after failing to convert on third down. Smith booted in his second field goal of the day from 42 yards out to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 28-24 at the end of the third quarter.

Purdue added to its lead after senior Paul Griggs’ 22-yard field goal completion with 10:14 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the team a 31-27 lead.

However, those points would be the last of the day for the Boilermakers.

After numerous three-and-outs from both teams, the Herd got back into the end zone on a 6-yard touchdown run from Johnson. Johnson, who rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries, gave the team a 34-31 lead with 2:50 remaining in the game.

Purdue’s comeback was cut short after Appleby’s pass was intercepted by Lang and returned for a touchdown once again. Lang’s second interception return for a touchdown, which is a school record, gave Marshall a 41-31 lead and sealed the team’s season-opening win.

Lang said he knew he needed to make a big play in order to close out the game. He said the recent hours he and the rest of the defense dedicated to watching film had paid off.

Doc Holliday, Marshall’s head coach, said while he was impressed with Lang’s performance he was not the least bit surprised.

“He’s got ‘it,’” Holliday said. “We talk a lot about the ‘it’ factor around here. He’s not extremely big. He’s not extremely fast. But he’s a hell of a football player, and he makes plays.”

Holliday said he thought the biggest reason his team came away with the victory was due to the fans in attendance.

Just under 38,800 fans attended the Herd’s season opener, which is the third-largest crowd to ever pack into Joan C. Edwards Stadium, behind two West Virginia University games.

“The number one thing I’m proud of today is our fan base,” Holliday said. “That was a great crowd and that’s what happens with great programs.”

Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]