On a night with high emotions in Huntington, West Virginia, the Marshall Thundering Herd came through in the end with a 30-23 win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the 2017-edition of the Moonshine Throwdown in front of 19,516 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall (7-3, 4-2) successfully honored the 75 lost in the November 14, 1970 plane crash by holding off a late WKU (5-5, 3-3) flurry to secure its first win over the Hilltoppers since they joined C-USA in 2014 and broke a two-game losing streak.
WKU began the game with the ball and went on an 11-play, 73-yard drive that was capped off with a Mike White touchdown pass to Quin Jernighan from 6 yards out to give the Hilltoppers a 7-0 lead with 9:54 remaining in the first quarter.
After a couple changes of possession, the Herd offense got going and the drive was capped off with a Kaare Vedvik 29-yard field goal to cut the WKU lead down to 7-3 with 14:56 to go in the second quarter.
Marshall took its first lead of the game when an 11-play, 65-yard drive was capped off with a Keion Davis touchdown run from 3 yards out on fourth down to give the Herd a 10-7 lead with 7:29 remaining in the second quarter.
After another defensive stand, the Herd’s offense got the ball back with hopes of putting up points to end the first half. And after a 42-yard field goal by Vedvik with just 4 seconds to go until halftime, Marshall’s lead was extended to 13-7 heading into halftime.
Marshall received the opening kickoff of the second half and took it all the way when Tyler King muscled himself into the end zone from 10 yards out to extend the Herd’s lead up to 20-7 with 11:01 remaining in the third quarter.
WKU’s offense finally got going again on its next possession and it led to a Ryan Nuss 28-yard field goal to cut the Herd’s lead down to 20-10 with 7:41 to go in the third quarter.
After a couple changes of possession including Marshall quarterback Chase Litton being intercepted in the end zone by WKU’s Devon Key, the Herd’s defense had a huge answer.
Nazeeh Johnson intercepted White’s pass and returned it 45 yards for a Marshall touchdown to extend the Herd’s lead up to 27-10 with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter.
And on the ensuing kickoff, Marshall came up big again when the Hilltoppers’ Jahcour Pearson fumbled and the Herd’s Chase Hancock recovered to set Marshall’s offense up at the WKU 24-yard line.
The Herd took advantage with points when Vedvik connected on a 44-yard field goal to extend the Marshall lead up to 30-10 with 35 seconds to go in the third quarter.
WKU’s offense had an answer when White connected with Cameron Echols-Luper for a 25-yard touchdown to cut the Herd’s lead down to 30-16 with 13:48 remaining in the fourth quarter after the extra point was missed.
Following a Marshall punt and a WKU turnover on downs, the Herd’s offense began at the Hilltoppers’ 34-yard line. But a turnover on downs by Marshall gave WKU the ball at its own 32-yard line.
And the Hilltoppers continued to cut into the Marshall lead when White connected with Jernighan for a 27-yard touchdown to cut the lead down to 30-23 in favor of the Herd with 3:02 remaining in the game.
But Marshall was able to pick up three first downs on its next possession to put the game away and the Herd walked away with a hard-fought 30-23 victory over WKU.
Litton finished 17 for 28 for 190 yards and one interception for Marshall while King led the Herd’s ground attack with 22 carries for 102 yards and one touchdown.
With the Herd’s top two receivers out for almost the entire game, Willie Johnson and Nick Matthews came up big for Marshall with four receptions each including 48 receiving yards by Johnson and 46 receiving yards by Matthews.
Hancock and C.J. Reavis led the Herd defensively with nine tackles each with Hancock also chipping in one sack, one tackle-for-loss, one pass defended, and two quarterback hurries.
White finished 28 for 41 for 334 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for WKU while D’Andre Ferby led an anemic rushing attack with 13 carries for 39 yards. As a team, the Hilltoppers only accounted for a net of 34 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
Echols-Luper led all WKU receivers with nine receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown while Joel Iyiegbuniwe paced the Hilltoppers defensively with 15 total tackles and two tackles-for-loss.
An emotional night in Huntington was capped off with a key win by Marshall to get the upper hand over WKU for the first time since the Hilltoppers joined C-USA and the Herd will look to carry that momentum over into the final two weeks of the season.
Marshall heads back out on the road Nov. 18 at UTSA and WKU returns home for another rivalry game against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 17.