Marshall holds off Virginia Tech, 24-17

— By David Walsh

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall has logged another win against a Power 5 football team.

A year ago, the Thundering Herd shocked nationally-ranked Notre Dame. On Saturday, Marshall held on to defeat Virginia Tech, 24-17, in front of 31,475 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and viewers watching the national broadcast on ESPN2. 

It’s Marshall’s first win over a Power 5 team at home since 2015 when the Green and White knocked off Purdue in front of a sellout crowd and ESPN2 national telecast.

The win looks good for the Herd (3-0) as it gets ready now for Sun Belt Conference play next Saturday at home against Old Dominion. It will be homecoming. Marshall coach Charles Huff prefers, though, not to make a big deal between the Power 5 and Group of 5 labels in college football. The Sun Belt is one of the top Group of 5 conferences.

“We have a Power 5 process, mentality,” Huff said. “Go out and prepare, play harder and execute consistently you’ve got a chance to win. Trust. Today be willing to do what it takes to win and you’ve got to do the same thing next week.”

Rasheen Ali, the Conference USA Freshman of the Year two seasons ago who missed all but three games a year ago due to a knee injury, carried 27 times for 174 yards and two scores. He had a 56-yard TD run in the second period as Marshall opened a 17-10 lead at the break. That’s the most first-half points for the Herd this season. His 1-yard TD run midway through the third quarter put the home team ahead, 24-10. On that drive, he ripped off a 61-yard dash.

Virginia Tech (1-3), which has lost three in a row, made it interesting late when quarterback Kyron Drones raced 16-yards for a score with 7:14 left to cut the margin to 24-17. The Hokies took over at their 19-yard line with 2:54 left and reached the Marshall 36. A fourth-and-six pass fell incomplete thanks to a breakup by Josh Moten. Prior to that play, the Atlantic Coast Conference member had fourth-and-1 only to suffer a false start penalty. Earlier on a fourth-and-3 at the Virginia Tech 26, Drones found Bahyshul Tuten for 19 yards.

“It’s always a great feeling to see the defense end the game,” Herd defensive back Micah Abraham said.

Moten said he just did his job.

“Fourth-and-one and we got them to jump,” Moten said. “I saw the running back move, knew it would be an option route. Trust my eyes and my technique. Credit to the team and coaching staff. They give me confidence to make a play like that.”

Drones made his second straight start in place of injured Grant Wells, the former Marshall quarterback who transferred to Virginia Tech last season. He had injured an ankle in a loss to Purdue and did not play last week in the loss at Rutgers.

Marshall started its lone scoring drive in the second half and its 2-yard line. A third-down pass interference call on the Hokies kept the drive going and set the stage for Ali’s 61-yard sprint.

Drones had both touchdowns come after the Hokies picked off passes by Herd quarterback Cam Fancher. Drones sped 31 yards for the TD on his team’s first possession and then had the closing score.

Other than those to scores, the Virginia Tech offense had limited success.

“A really good day. We were good enough to win,” Huff said. “Hat’s off to Virginia Tech. They’re not a 1-3 team. They’re a good football team. Our guys battled. It’s all about the process. Offense showed to be versatile, a balance between run and pass. We tried to be patient with the lead late.”

Tech did some things on offense on that first drive, but the Herd made the adjustments from that point on.

“We made a decision. If they beat us, he has to throw. We were able to stop the run and get them into passing situations On offense we were patient with the running game. Get ours, be patient, get more. They’re a Power 5 team with great ability. Somebody up front had to do something.”

Fancher finished with 166 yards passing on 16-of-27, including a 12-yard TD toss to DeMarcus in the second period. Huff said Fancher made quite the read on that play.

“It was all go if they jump,” Huff said. “That ball was not supposed to go to Marcus. It’s all the little storylines. It shows we’re improving.”

Marshall’s offense generated just 13 yards on 10 plays in the fourth, meaning the defense had to rise one more time.

“Find a way to make a team line up and make a snap one more time,” Huff said. “Holdin them to a field goal (early second quarter after a turnover) was a big deal.”

Virginia Tech had 344 total yards. After that field goal, the Hokies either turned the ball over or punted on seven straight possessions heading into the final period.

Ali said it would be likely be later Saturday when he realized his rushing numbers.

“Go home, sit back, relax and realize I got the numbers,” he said. “When I get an open lane, I look at the end zone and make the guys chase me down. The big thing is we got the win. Notre Dame or Virginia Tech, we set a standard. It’s a faceless opponent. Put everything together.”

Linebacker Eli Neal led the Herd with 10 stops. He said it was a matter of clamping down after the opening drive.

“They score. You can’t change that,” Neal said. “It’s a spitting image of the process. Have an intensity the other side of the ball can’t match. Stay disciplined. It paid off.”

Drones connected on 19-of-35 passes for 160 yards and ran for 75. Tuten led the rushers with 88 yards on nine carries.

Virginia Tech is off to its worst start since 2010 when the Hokies began 0-2 before charging back to finish 11-3. Virginia Tech begins ACC play next Saturday at home against Pitt.

This was Marshall’s first win over Virginia Tech in more than 80 years. It was the program’s first win over an ACC team since 2013 when it beat Maryland in the Military Bowl. Maryland has since joined the Big Ten. The Hokies lead the all-time series 11-3.

Virginia Tech’s coach is Brent Pry, whose father, Jim, played for Marshall’s Young Thundering Herd in 1971. Bill Roth, voice of the Hokies, once called football and basketball for Marshall.

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