HUNTINGTON — Marshall came into Saturday’s contest against No. 23 Appalachian State having never defeated a ranked opponent in the history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
That streak ended in front of 12,050 fans on Saturday as the Herd earned a 17-7 win over the Mountaineers behind a defensive effort that kept App State without a point over the final 52-plus minutes of action.
“What a great football game that was,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “I’m just really proud of how hard our kids played. They just kept fighting the entire game. We knew going in that it was going to be a 60-minute game.”
The win came one day away from 17 years since the Herd’s last victory over a nationally ranked team — that being a 27-20 win over No. 6 Kansas State in 2003.
One week after App State (1-1) rushed for 308 yards in a win over Charlotte, Marshall’s defense kept the Mountaineers to just 96 yards on 33 carries.
The defensive effort was led by Marshall linebacker Tavante Beckett, who had a career-high 16 tackles and a forced fumble.
“When I get a ranked game like this, I just try to make the most of it — make the most of the opportunities,” Beckett said. “What I preach to my teammates is don’t let the moment get too big. … Everybody just did their job today and that’s why they only scored seven points.”
While Beckett was the defensive catalyst, the biggest defensive play of the game came from safety Brandon Drayton, who forced a fumble that Nazeeh Johnson recovered in the end zone.
Drayton’s forced fumble came on a fourth-down completion from Zac Thomas to Mike Evans, who was all alone in behind the Herd defense for a 41-yard gain.
Drayton caught Evans from behind and punched the ball out into the end zone and Johnson pounced on it to end a scoring threat.
“If they would’ve scored, it’s a totally different ballgame,” Johnson said. “Him not giving up on that play, it was a good testament (to our work).”
Both teams eclipsed 500 yards in their respective season-opening wins, but this game was a defensive battle over the final three quarters.
The lone second-half score was a big one as Marshall redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells engineered a quick drive to put the Herd up two scores.
After Wells hit Xavier Gaines for a 67-yard gain down the middle of the field, Wells called his own number on a keeper from 12 yards to put the Herd up 17-7 with 4:44 left in the third.
From there, the Marshall defense kept the Mountaineers at bay while the offense churned time off the clock with its rushing attack to lead to the win.
Marshall running back Brenden Knox finished with 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries to lead the Herd offense, which rushed for 216 yards in the contest.
Knox and Wells each credited Marshall’s offensive line for taking on the challenge of App State’s defense and winning the battles up front.
“Once the offensive line gets that type of mindset that they’re not going to be stopped, they just get to mowing guys down and everybody just follows suit,” Knox said.
Knox got Marshall going early, rushing five times for 49 yards on the Herd’s opening drive, which he capped with a 2-yard score.
Immediately, App State answered back with an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended when Thomas hit Jalen Virgil on an 11-yard score that knotted the game with 7:11 left in the first quarter.
After Marshall took a 10-7 lead following a 29-yard field goal by Shane Ciucci, App State had a chance to take a lead into halftime.
However, Steven Gilmore stepped in front of a Thomas pass to end the scoring threat. The play was vindication for Gilmore, who had been flagged for a pair of pass interference penalties on the drive.
Penalties hindered Marshall throughout the contest with the Herd yielding 117 penalty yards in the win.
Thomas finished 22 of 38 for 268 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Mountaineers.
Marshall’s next scheduled contest is an Oct. 10 matchup at Western Kentucky to open Conference USA play. It is not yet known whether the Herd will look to add a non-conference matchup prior to that date.
App State 7 0 0 0 — 7
Marshall 7 3 7 0 — 17
MAR — Knox 2 run (Ciucci kick), 12:29
APP — Virgil 11 pass from Thomas (Staton kick), 7:11
MAR — Ciucci 29 FG, 2:28
MAR — Wells 11 run (Ciucci kick), 4:44
Total yards 364 379
First downs 26 22
Rushes-yards 33-96 45-216
Comp-Att-Int 22-39-1 11-25-1
Passing yards 268 163
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-82 11-117
RUSHING — APP: Peoples 12-57, Harrington 12-30, Thomas 9-9. MU: Knox 28-138, Wells 6-43, Evans 10-33, Gaines 1-2.
PASSING — APP: Thomas 22-38-1-268. MU: 11-25-1-163.
RECEIVING — APP: Hennigan 5-88, Evans 2-57, Williams 5-54, Virgil 3-34, Wells 4-23, Crosby 2-12, Peoples 1-0. MU:P Gaines 2-68, Thomson 3-37, Johnson 2-33, Ahmed 1-12, Evans 2-12, Keaton 1-1