HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A hallelujah of a Homecoming.
Marshall pitched a second half shutout, scored 11 unanswered points in the final 18 minutes and ultimately snapped a four-game losing skid with a 27-21 Homecoming victory over visiting Florida Atlantic in a Conference USA gridiron tilt Saturday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Cabell County.
The Thundering Herd (2-4, 1-1 C-USA) surrendered 309 total yards in the first half and trailed 21-16 entering the break, but the hosts rallied by allowing less than half of that number (147) while holding the Owls (1-6, 0-3) scoreless in each of their four second half possessions.
Marshall, however, had to put in a full four quarters of effort to pick up its first Football Bowl Subdivision victory of the season after trailing 21-19 headed into the finale.
FAU was forced to punt at the start of the fourth quarter, then both teams traded punts on their ensuing possessions — giving the Herd the ball at their own 20-yard line with 8:24 remaining.
MU followed with what proved to be a game-clinching drive that covered 80 yards in 14 plays, with Keion Davis capping things with a one-yard plunge for a 25-21 edge with 1:53 left.
Josh Knight hauled in a successful pass from Chase Litton on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, giving Marshall a six-point cushion.
The Herd, however, had another obstacle to overcome on the ensuing kickoff after being pushed back 15 yards following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Davis after his late TD run.
MU kicker Amoreto Curraj followed by kicking the ball out of bounds on a deep boot, which gave the Owls possession at midfield with 1:53 remaining.
Kalib Woods hauled in a 33-yard pass completion from Jason Driskel on the opening play to get in the red zone, but a holding penalty on the next snap pushed the guests back to the Marshall 27-yard line.
FAU mustered its way back down to the 10, but ultimately came up short on a fourth-and-three passing play — allowing the Green and White to take over possession with 1:11 left in regulation.
MU took three consecutive kneel downs to run out the clock, ending a torturous 35-day span between victories since beating Morgan State — a Football Championship Subdivision program — by a 62-0 margin back on September 10.
After ending the longest losing skid in his seven seasons as MU head coach, Doc Holliday was glad that his troops were finally able to get this traditionally successful program back into the win column.
“I was proud of our kids, and the way they continued to fight. I thought we came out in the second half and the defense shut that team out,” Holliday said. “The offense found a way to get that last drive down there and they won the game which was an important thing. FAU has some good players and I thought out players kept fighting and they found a way to win it.”
FAU opened the game with a four-play, 75-yard drive that led to a 7-0 lead as Driskel scrambled 18 yards to paydirt at the 13:55 mark.
Marshall responded with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive that tied things at seven following a 30-yard scamper by Davis with 11:08 remaining in the first period.
After forcing a FAU punt on the ensuing possession, the Herd took their first lead of the night with 5:27 left in the first following a 31-yard field goal by Curraj — making it a 10-7 contest.
The Owls, however, countered with a nine-play, 89-yard drive to reclaim the first quarter lead as Devin Singletary rumbled 48 yards for a 14-10 edge with 1:22 left.
Marshall’s ensuing drive resulted in a loss of downs, then FAU marched the ball down to the MU 18 before Rodney Allen forced a fumble that was recovered by Blake Keller — giving the hosts possession with 12:49 left in the half.
The Herd put together a quick three-play, 82-yard scoring drive for their final first half advantage as Josh Knight hauled in a deep ball from Litton and covered 65 yards to paydirt for a 16-14 contest with 11:28 remaining.
Both teams exchanged punts on their ensuing drives, then the guests strung together a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 21-16 advantage as Greg Howell plunged in from a yard out with 3:13 left until half.
Florida Atlantic held a 309-255 advantage in total yards at the break, which included 182 rushing yards on 26 attempts. MU, conversely, claimed a 200-127 edge through the passing game before halftime.
Both teams started the third quarter with failed fourth down conversion opportunities, then Marshall covered 55 yards in 12 plays to close its deficit down to 21-19 following a successful 39-yard field goal from Curraj with 2:11 remaining in the third stanza.
Marshall finished the night with a slim 25-24 edge in first downs and retained possession of the ball for 19:18 of the 30 minutes played in the second half. MU was plus-1 in turnover differential and also scored the only points (six) off of takeaways.
The Herd rushed 42 times for 106 yards, with Davis leading the way with 86 yards and two scores on 22 attempts. Hyleck Foster also rushed for 45 yards on a dozen totes.
Litton finished the night 27-of-39 passing for 330 yards, tossing one TD and one late second quarter pick. Knight led the wideouts with nine grabs for 128 yards, followed by Emanuel Byrd with five catches for 52 yards.
C.J. Reavis led MU defense with 15 tackles and Chase Hancock added 10 stops. Ryan Bee had a sack and two tackles for loss, while Chris Jackson came up with a late second quarter interception.
The Owls produced 281 rushing yards on 45 attempts, with Singletary leading the charge with 115 yards and a score on 13 carries. Howell also produced 113 yards and a score on 20 tries.
Driskel finished the night 9-of-17 passing for 151 yards while throwing a pick. Daniel Parr was also 2-of-3 passing for 24 yards. Kalib Woods hauled in five passes for 100 yards.
Jalen Young and Nate Ozdemir both led the FAU defense with 16 tackles, followed by Azee Al-Shaair with 15 stops and two sacks. Young also had an interception in the setback.
Marshall — which has now won four straight Homecoming contests — returns to Conference USA action Saturday when it hosts Charlotte at 5:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters is the Ohio Valley Publishing sports editor and can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.