— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — North Carolina State showed resilience when needed and knocked off Marshall 37-20 Saturday night in front of 32,349 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Thundering Herd, playing from behind all night, cut the deficit to 23-17 in the third quarter thanks to a special-teams score.
Safety Jarius Morehead picked off a high pass from Thundering Herd quarterback Isaiah Green and returned it 57 yards for what proved to be the clinching TD with 28 seconds left in the third to extend the Wolfpack lead to 37-20. There was no scoring in the fourth period, so N.C. State made it two straight over Marshall in the two-game series by identical scores.
“Obviously, we didn’t play well enough to win that football game,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “I think that’s an excellent football team that we just played. We made too many mistakes — had a couple of turnovers that we don’t normally have.”
Morehead’s interception came at a time when Marshall (2-1) had a bit of momentum as it tried to get back into the contest. Trailing by 10, the Herd had gotten a rare defensive stop and had possession at its own 43 in prime position to cut N.C. State’s lead to one possession. However, N.C. State (3-0) got pressure on Green, whose throw to Obi Obialo sailed. Morehead camped under it and tight-roped the sideline before going in untouched for the score.
Holliday called a timeout after the return in hopes of getting a review, but the replay booth didn’t ring down to the officials on the field to take a look at it.
“We had it to a one-possession game there at one time in the second half, which was huge,” Holliday said. “I thought he stepped out of bounds on that return, but obviously, I guess the replay official didn’t think that. We’ll take a look at it (Sunday) and see.”
The play came late in a third quarter when the Herd fought to get back into the game after trailing by 16 at the half. Marshall’s third-quarter push came as the Herd scored 10 points in nine seconds after a big special teams play from Jaquan Yulee. Following a 32-yard field goal by Justin Rohrwasser, Yulee drilled C.J. Riley on a kickoff return, forcing a fumble that Artis Johnson returned 22 yards for a score to pull the Herd within 23-17.
However, Finley showed his poise under pressure on the next N.C. State drive, connecting on a 32-yard pass to Stephen Louis before hitting Emeka Emezie for a 30-yard score that settled things for the Wolfpack. Emezie’s catch came on a beautiful double-move when he turned around safety Brandon Drayton before running free in the middle of the field. Finley finished 23-of-40 passing for 377 yards and one touchdown while not turning the ball over.
Finley, a senior expected to go high in the 2019 NFL Draft, has been solid on third down throughout the season. N.C. State came in converting 60 percent and was near its mark again, converting nine of 17 opportunities against the Herd defense.
“That’s what good teams do,” Holliday said. “They’ve got good receivers and they’ve got a quarterback that’s fifth or sixth year (senior). He’s an excellent player.”
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren believes his team has made strides in the non-conference part of the schedule so it will be ready when the team opens ACC play next Saturday at home against Virginia.
“I think we’ve handled our business and that’s all you can do,” Doeren said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position going into conference play. We’re right where we want to be.
“I thought the guys responded. That is what I was most proud of tonight. It seemed like every time they got momentum, we just — bam — we were right back on them. I love that. That resiliency is a very positive thing for our football team to show them tonight.”
A year ago, Herd receiver Tyre Brady had a breakout game against the Wolfpack in Raleigh, catching 11 passes for a Carter-Finley Stadium opponent record 248 yards. N.C. State had an answer in the rematch, limiting Brady to three catches for 25 yards. In addition, Marshall once again struggled running the ball. The Herd had 22 rushing attempts for 54 yards. Tyler King was the top individual rusher with 30 yards on nine carries.
“We knew what he (Brady) did last year. We worked hard not to let that happen again,” Morehead said. “We had a good plan. We mixed things up. We confused them, didn’t let them get confidence. The TD, it’s always a goal to get it. I knew where the end zone was. It was a big play for the defense at that time.”
Green, a redshirt freshman, connected on 22-of-42 attempts for 270 yards. However, he had two throws picked off and fumbled one away.
“You go through some growing pains with freshmen, unfortunately,” Holliday said. “He’ll get better every week.”
Marshall now prepares for its Conference USA opener next Saturday night at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers (1-3) picked up their first win Saturday against Ball State, 28-20.
Marshall fell to 3-11 against Power 5 opposition since 2010.
Saturday’s crowd was the 12th-largest in Edwards Stadium history.