By Dave Walsh
HUNTINGTON — Grant Wells debut at quarterback for Marshall was a good as any Herd quarterback to come before him. He completed 16-of-23 pass attempts for 307 yards and four scores, leading the Herd to 59-0 win over Eastern Kentucky in front of a limited umber of fans on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
That’s the most yards ever for a Marshall quarterback in his first start and the four scores is tied with Stan Hill and Chase Litton in their quarterback debut.
“Didn’t know that. Pretty cool,” Wells said on a Zoom call to the media after the game. “Butterflies, yes. Look around 10 other guys with me. Great to come out fast. You don’ imagine it would turn out like this. All the preparation. Been going against the best defense in Conference USA. Nice to see somebody with different colors.”
Wells, an all-stater in high school at George Washington in Charleston, connected on his first eight attempts and racked up 280 yards and four touchdowns in just the first half. He completed passes to nine different receivers as he became the first in-state player to start a game at quarterback since 1995 when Mark Zban got the call.
“Early on you worry,” Holliday said. “No spring ball. You worry about missed tackles. We were solid in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams). We took care of the ball and I’m excited about the we we played.
“I’ve got confidence in Grant. You saw in him today what I’ve seen in practice. He took care of the ball. The receivers made a lot of big-time plays.”
Wells played the first series in the third quarter and drove the Herd to a TD, going 90 yards in 12 plays in 5:05. In addition to his arm, Wells showed his running ability when he sprinted for a 25-yard gain on a read-option for a first down at the 6-yard line. Sheldon Evans scored on the next play, making the Herd 7-for-7 on scoring with its possessions. In addition to his 307 yards passing, Wells had 30 yards rushing on six attempts to give him 337 total yards. The passing total is a Herd record for a quarterback in a debut and the school’s had some pretty good pass slingers down through the years.
Zban, son of former Marshall quarterback Mark Zban, took over the Herd offense with 3:30 left in the third period and lead the offense to a score. From that point on, Herd coach Doc Holliday emptied the bench. Still the Herd had 627 total yards.
On defense, Marshall limited the FCS Colonels to 66 total yards in the first half and 166 for the game. EKU is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, which opted to wait to spring 2021 to play. The Colonels chose to play this fall and got an 8-game schedule together. Their next game is next Saturday against West Virginia in Morgantown. Their schedule features five road games and three at home.
Herd defensive back Nazeeh Johnson, who picked off a pass, was not surprised by the play of Wells or the defense.
“Didn’t see anything different. Does the same thing iractice,” Johnson said of Wells. “Feels good (shutout). Nice to play somebody else. Tried to get focus. ESPN is here. We did just that. We got locked in. Got to stay hungry.”
The touchdown passes for Wells, who played in just one game a year ago, covered 22 yards to Xavier Gaines, 21 yards to Talik Keaton, 2,yards to Garet Morrell and 42 yards to Jaron Woodyard, a transfer from Nebraska.
This was not the debut rookie Eastern Kentucky coach Walt Wells wanted. He spent the past two seasons as a quality control assistant coach at Kentucky. He was an assistant under legendary Colonels coach Roy Kidd (1997-2002).
Fans are scheduled to get their next chance to see the Herd on Sept. 19 when Appalachian State visits Edwards Stadium for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff. CBS Sports Network will have the game live. Former Thundering Herd standout quarterback Tony Petersen is offensive coordinator for the Mountaineers, who are in the Sun Belt Conference and got 26 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll.