Remembrance of a great game

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Despite its ups and downs in the Purdue University game on Sunday, Marshall got it done when it mattered the most. The Herd now prepares for the rest of its season, including Saturday night’s rivalry game with Ohio University.

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said his team showed great heart battling back to defeat the Boilermakers.

“I thought our team showed a lot of heart and came out in the second half and played extremely well,” he said. “Our strength program and the way we practiced was the reason we won that football game.”

The Herd immediately ignited the sellout crowd of 38,917 when junior safety Tiquan Lang intercepted Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 30-yards for a touchdown, giving Marshall a 7-0 lead just seven seconds into the game.

The Boilermakers responded nicely to the early adversity as sophomore running back D.J. Knox found the end zone from 4-yards out to cap off an 11-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game at 7 apiece with 10:36 remaining in the first quarter.

Marshall’s offense found the end zone for the first time when junior quarterback Michael Birdsong, making his first start for the Herd, connected with senior running back Devon Johnson from 20-yards out to give Marshall the lead back at 14-7 with 6:18 remaining in the first quarter.

The Herd offense also added a field goal in the first quarter, when sophomore kicker Nick Smith, making his first collegiate start, connected from 42 yards to extend Marshall’s lead to 17-7 with 3:00 remaining in the first quarter. Purdue then drove down the field, and Appleby connected with senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop from 9-yards out to cut the Herd’s lead to 17-14 with just 36 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The only score in the second quarter followed that turnover when Appleby found the end zone from 1-yard out to cap off a 12-play, 72-yard drive and give Purdue a 21-17 lead with 7:35 remaining in the second quarter.

Marshall got the ball to start the second half and immediately drove down the field as Birdsong hooked up with sophomore tight end Ryan Yurachek from 1-yard out to give the Herd the lead back at 24-21 with 11:47 remaining in the third quarter.

Purdue had an answer as freshman running back Markell Jones capped off a 9-play, 70-yard drive by finding the end zone from 36-yards out to give the Boilermakers the lead back at 28-24 with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter.

After an exchange of punts, the Herd added another field goal by Smith, this time from 32-yards out, to cut Purdue’s lead to 28-27 with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter.

The Marshall defense came up big on the following offensive series by Purdue as senior safety Taj Letman intercepted Appleby and gave the Herd’s offense the ball at its 22-yard line. However, Marshall squandered the opportunity as Birdsong was quickly intercepted by Purdue junior safety Leroy Clark and the Boilermakers took over at the Herd’s 30-yard line.

Marshall’s defense once again came up big, forcing Purdue into a field goal attempt that bounced off of the left upright and missed. But the Herd’s offense was in a giving mood in the third quarter and the normally sure-handed Johnson fumbled after breaking free for a 33-yard run and the Boilermakers recovered at the Marshall 25-yard line.

As the fourth quarter began, the Purdue offense was driving again. However, Marshall’s defense came up with a big stop as the Boilermakers got the ball inside the Herd’s 5-yard line.

Purdue had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to extend its lead to 31-27 with 10:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.

After an exchange of punts, the Herd offense got the ball back and embarked on an 11-play, 84-yard drive behind a poised Birdsong to take the lead back. The drive was capped off when Johnson muscled his way into the end zone from 6-yards out to give Marshall a 34-31 lead with just 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Appleby and the Boilermakers’ offense got the ball back and drove to their 40-yard line before the Herd defense made what would be the game-winning play.

On a third down and 10, Lang yet again intercepted Appleby’s pass, and Lang sent the sold out crowd into a frenzy as he returned the interception 55-yards for a Marshall touchdown, his second interception for a touchdown in the game. The Herd extended its lead to 41-31 with just 1:20 remaining in the game.

Purdue wasn’t going down without a fight, however, as the offense drove the ball down to the Herd’s 36-yard line. But Marshall senior cornerback Keith Baxter iced the game as he intercepted Appleby’s pass and returned it to the Herd’s 43-yard line.

The Marshall offense ran out the final seconds to secure the Herd’s 41-31 victory over Purdue for the program’s first ever win over a Big Ten opponent.

Lang finished the day with arguably one of the best defensive performances in program history with 17 tackles and 2 interceptions for touchdowns, the first Marshall player with two interceptions for touchdowns in one game.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Holliday said. “He’s got ‘it.’ You talk a lot about the ‘it’ factor and he’s not extremely big, he’s not extremely fast, but he’s a heck of a football player.”

“I just saw the ball and he threw them right to me. On the first one I saw it in his eyes, he looked right at me,” Lang said. “On the second one, I knew somebody had to make a play on defense and I went out there, made a great catch and ran it in to put the team back on top.”

In his first FBS start, Birdsong finished the game completing 23 of 36 passes for 234 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. He also had 43 yards rushing on 10 carries.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Holliday said. “We have to take care of the ball, we had a few turnovers there that we can’t have, but I thought for his first start in this environment, against a much improved Big Ten team, I thought he played extremely well and I’m proud of the way he took some shots and then came back in the second half.”

Holliday said the sold out crowd, which was the third largest crowd in Joan C. Edwards Stadium history, was a big factor in the game. “The number one thing I’m proud of is our fan base,” he said. “How about that crowd? That’s what happens with great programs and great teams and your fans show up like that. The biggest reason we won that game was because of the people that showed up and I can’t say enough how proud I am of our fans.”

Holliday said his team has improvements to make as the season progresses.

“I think the most improvements a team makes comes between games one and two. There’s no doubt that we can get a whole lot better,” he said. We made a lot of mistakes out there today, but there are a lot of unknowns in a first game with a lot of first time starters and a team that’s just starting out too. I think we made a lot of good adjustments in the second half, offensively, defensively and on special teams.”

The Herd travels to Athens, Ohio, Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff with Ohio in the 2015 edition of The Battle for the Bell.

Trace Johnson can be contacted at [email protected]