— By David Walsh
Marshall didn’t need late-game heroics this week to win.
Quarterback Grant Wells passed for 323 yards and two touchdowns and ran for three more to power the Thundering Herd past North Texas, 49-21, Friday night at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas.
CBS Sports Network aired the Conference USA contest and the audience watched Marshall score touchdowns on six straight possessions in the first half. Wells connected on 24-of-32 passes with eight different receivers snaring balls as the visitors matched their single-game high for points this season. Marshall also scored 49 in its opener against Navy.
On defense, the Herd forced five punts and North Texas to turn the ball over on downs on five of its 14 possessions.
Marshall is 4-3 overall, 2-1 in C-USA East. The Herd is off next week. The next game is Oct. 30 at home against Florida International.
A week ago, Wells threw touchdown passes, the first with 33 seconds left to force overtime and then one in OT, to rally past Old Dominion, 20-13.
On its second drive Friday night, the Herd marched 67 yards in 10 plays to go ahead to stay. On that series, Wells completed two big passes. One went for 32 yards to Willie Johnson and the second 11 yards to Corey Gammage on a fourth-and-5 at the Mean Green 26.
The home team discovered Marshall had come to play when Rasheen Ali capped the march with an 8-yard TD run as he spun out of a tackle along the way. The freshman totaled 109 yards on 20 carries and scored again on a 1-yard run.
Wells got all three of his scores on 3-yard keepers.
An interception plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Marshall possession at the Mean Green 33 and Wells would find tight end Xavier Gaines for a 24-yard TD as Gaines kept his feet inbounds as he was shoved toward the sideline at the pylon.
North Texas, playing a game Friday night at home for the first time, got its first score on a 75-yard TD run by DeAndre Torrey, who would amass 179 yards on 20 carries. That TD is the longest run from scrimmage for the Mean Green this season and came with the Herd ahead, 35-0, on the score by Gaines. Torrey would add a 51-yard TD in the fourth period as the home team scored on its final two possessions.
This was the Herd’s largest margin of victory ever in a game in Texas, according to Herdzone’s Chuck McGill. North Texas is 1-5, 0-3 in the league.
First-year Herd coach Charles Huff took delight in his team’s dominant performance after the close call a week ago.
“The first half we played together in all three phases,” Huff told McGill. “We played together as a team.”
For Wells, he chalked up an historic night with five total touchdowns. He completed 18 straight passes, breaking the single-game record held by Eric Kresser (14 in 1996). Kresser’s streak covered two games, the final 10 throws vs. The Citadel and first four in the next game against East Tennessee State. The last Herd quarterback to run for three scores was Michael Payton in 1990.
“It’s what we see every day at practice,” Huff said. “The warrior we talked about at the end of the game who ran for three touchdowns today. That’s who he is. It helps when we have some first-down efficiency.
“What we saw tonight: he was comfortable; he managed some of his throws; he made some good reads.”
As for support, Ali caught one pass for 50 yards in addition to his rushing numbers. Marshall’s defense continues to come on. North Texas finished 5-of-16 on third downs and went 0-for-5 on fourth downs. Marshall also picked off two passes.
“Our defense played really well for three weeks in a row,” Huff said. “It’s a new system and our guys are getting comfortable with it.”
In the first half, Marshall had six scores compared to just five first downs for North Texas. The Mean Green got flagged 17 times for 163 yards.
Marshall registered 14 points in the first period and 28 in the second. The Herd had a 348-132 advantage in total offense and 18-5 edge in first downs in the first 30 minutes.
Senior safety Nazeeh Johnson led the Herd with eight tackles. Sophomore linebacker Eli Neal totaled a sack, two tackles for loss and one pick. Senior safety Cory McCoy had an interception for the second straight game.
Marshall now leads the overall series 3-1. North Texas got its only win at home in 2016. It was the last time these two schools met.
Austin Aune, who had four TD passes in last week’s loss at Missouri, completed 16-of-30 for just 121 yards. North Texas did have 411 total yards, but 279 came in the second half when the outcome had all but been decided.
Torrey had 202 all-purpose yards. He came in averaging 157.2 which is No. 6 in FBS. Ayo Adeyi finished with a career night with 12 carries for 80 yards and his first TD.
“We had way too many mistakes and until we clean that up and quit making mistakes and playing complementary football, you’re not going to beat good teams,” North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. “We have a lot of work to do. I just told our guys we’ll stick together and grind this out and find a way to get a week better.”
North Texas punter Bernardo Rodriguez boomed a 64-yard punt in the first period for his career best. His previous long was 58 yards last season against SMU.