By Dave Walsh
HUNTINGTON – Marshall capitalized on the chance to defeat a ranked opponent, knocking off 23rd ranked Appalachian State 17-7 Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall’s last win over a ranked opponent came back in 2003, when Marshall defeated Kansas State. Until Saturday, Marshall had not defeated a ranked opponent at home since it beat Miami (OH) at Fairfield Stadium in 1976.
“This is something we can talk about the rest of our life,” said Knox, who carried 28 times for 138 yards and capped the opening possession score with a 2-yard run. “Not many people get to do that.”
Marshall rolled up 216 on the ground controlling the line scrimmage throughout the contest. The Herd also limited Appalachian State to use 96 yards rushing on the day.
“We established our identity,” Knox said. “We kept it the rest of the game.
Appalachian State scored on its first possession, answering Marshall’s opening possession score. Quarterback Zac Thomas connected with Jalen Virgil for an 11-yard scoring toss to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Herd placekicker Shane Ciucci connected on a 29-yard field goal with 6:08 left to put the home team ahead to stay, 10-7.
Marshall Quarterback Grant Wells struggle at times through the first two quarters of the game but started to hit his stride in the second half. Wells led a two-play, 79-yard drive for a touchdown in the third quarter that turned the momentum and extended the lead to 17-7.
The redshirt freshman from Charleston found tight end Xavier Gaines wide open down the middle of the field for a 67-yard gain down to the Appalachian State 12-yard line. On the next snap, Wells faked a handoff to Knox on the run-pass option and headed around the left untouched 12 yards as those fans watching live or on television didn’t know he had the ball.
“It certainly helped turn the mo (momentum),” Wells said. “I could feel them losing it. One of the keys was to get their safeties involved in coverage. We knew the play would work. We had to choose when we run it. We set up (the TD) in the red zone. We kind of knew what to do. That one play didn’t win it. We still knew we had to finish.”
Thomas finished with 268 yards passing, but many came in the fourth quarter when the Mountaineers were playing catchup and the Herd knew they had to keep them out of the end zone.
Linebacker Tavante Beckett led the charge for Marshall with a career-best 16 tackles, 8 solo and 8 assists along with a forced fumble.
“I preach to my teammates play your game,” Beckett said. “Everyone did their job. That’s why they scored just seven points. I trust my teammates and I trust the calls made.”
Herd coach Doc Holliday relished the outcome.
“I said this team has a chance to be special,” Holliday said. “Nothing changed my mind today. This is huge for our school, our community.”
Appalachian State missed on multiple chances to change the tone of the game. In the first quarter, Daetrich Harrington had a 76-yard touchdown run called back after a review showed his knee was down.
In the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-1 at the Herd 46, Thomas faked a handoff, pulled in the defense and found a wide-open Mike Evans down the middle for a 41-yard gain. The Herd’s Brandon Drayton ran down Evans, knocked the ball free and Nazeeh Johnson made the recovery in the end zone for the touchback to end the threat.
With 2:54 left, App State kicker Chandler Staton missed a 26-yard field goal wide right for the visitors.
The game was Marshall’s first on CBS nationally since the 1992 and the I-AA title game against Youngstown State. Officials from the Big 12 Conference worked the game.Marshall is in Conference USA. The Mountaineers are in the Sun Belt Conference.
The two schools once were rivals in the I-AA Southern Conference. Appalachian State now leads the series 14-9 with three more games scheduled in the future.
Marshall improved to 2-0 with the win, but now does not have another game scheduled until Oct. 10 at Western Kentucky.