HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — As the temperature continued to drop on Saturday night, the Thundering Herd were just getting warmed up.
And, not just getting warmed up — Marshall simply looked like the Herd teams of yesteryear, while remembering two years in particular, in the final 30 minutes.
That’s because Marshall outscored the visiting Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 28-0 in the second half — en route to a dominating 42-17 Conference USA football victory in front of 20,841 inside a frigid Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
After trading scores with the Blue Raiders and trailing 17-14 at halftime, the Thundering Herd took the lead for good with 11:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Then, two more Marshall touchdowns in a span of a minute and 20 seconds at the outset of the fourth period put the Blue Raiders on ice.
With the win — coming on the anniversary weekend of the 1970 plane crash which killed 75 members of the Marshall University football team, coaches, staff and community — the Herd improved to 3-7, and 2-4 in Conference USA.
“We were kind of cheatin’,” said sophomore quarterback Chase Litton. “We had 75 angels playing for us.”
On Saturday night, the Herd donned special white helmets with the number “75” on the back — in remembrance of the 75 individuals lost on Nov. 14, 1970.
In addition, those helmets included decals on each side in honor of the 1971 squad.
Playing inspired, the Thundering Herd certainly played well over the final 26 minutes and 13 seconds.
Litton threw for four touchdowns and had no interceptions, while Marshall — for the first time in head coach Doc Holliday’s seven-year tenure (88 games) — forced at least four turnovers while not having one itself.
The Herd also enjoyed a season-best rushing performance against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent — amassing 207 yards on 41 carries.
Marshall’s defense — conversely — stymied the Blue Raiders to 283 yards of total offense, including only 88 in the entire second half.
It was the first time that Middle Tennessee, which fell to 6-4 and 3-3 in the conference, had been held to under 300 yards in its last 20 games.
I’Tavius Mathers, the Blue Raiders’ standout running back which entered Saturday night with 1,145 yards on the season, was held to a season-low 45 — part of only 63 rushing yards for the entire club.
Middle Tennessee was also forced to punt five times.
“That was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. “We had some guys step up. Our quarterback was sensational. We were plus-four in turnover margin; took it away from them four times. We didn’t turn it over. We were able to run the ball extremely well and made good decisions out there.”
The Herd definitely did those two things.
Marshall racked up 29 first downs to the Blue Raiders’ 13, and amounted 453 total yards on 78 plays from scrimmage.
In fact, Middle Tennessee tallied only four first downs in the second half, while the Herd had four touchdowns.
Litton led the offensive attack with 246 yards on 21-of-37 passing, completing touchdown tosses of 25, 28 and 22 yards — including the 25 and 28-yarders to Justin Hunt.
Hunt’s 25-yard reception, with 9:17 remaining in the second stanza, put the Herd in front for the second time at 14-10 with Amoreto Curraj’s second extra-point kick.
The 28-yard pitch-and-catch made it 21-17 Marshall at the 11:13 mark of the third quarter, kick-starting the Herd’s second-half onslaught.
Both plays capped lengthy scoring drives — 14 plays and 80 yards in six minutes and eight seconds on the first and nine plays and 74 yards in 3:47 on the other.
Litton’s final TD strike — to Hyleck Foster for 22 yards with six-and-a-half minutes remaining — made it 42-17 and ended a nine-play, 49-yard, five-minute and three-second march.
Foster got the Herd on the board only two-and-a-half minutes in — scoring from three yards out to cap a quick, four-play 39-yard drive.
The opening touchdown was set up by a Terry Richardson interception of Middle Tennessee quarterback John Urzua — and a 26-yard return.
Urzua, a redshirt freshman, was intercepted twice and sacked three times — completing 25-of-37 passes for 220 yards.
For the Herd, on the other hand, it was a career night for several individuals.
Hunt had a career-high five receptions for 87 yards, as Anthony Anderson added a career-best 109 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
Anderson extended the Herd’s lead to 28-17 only a minute and 37 seconds into the final quarter, following a Blue Raider punt and a Marshall drive which began at the MT 35.
Anderson carried all three plays on the series, picking up nine and 11 yards before rushing into the end zone for the final 15.
Then, following a Mathers fumble on the Blue Raiders’ very next play, Marshall struck again only a minute later at the 12-minute mark — going three plays and 31 yards to make it 35-17 with Curraj’s fifth of six successful extra points.
Josh Knight, who led the Herd in receptions with six for 73 yards, caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Litton.
Tony Pittman complemented Anderson with a season-high 88 yards on 15 totes.
Defensively, senior safety Corey Neely notched a career-high 13 tackles, and also made an acrobatic interception while forcing the fumble by Mathers.
Holliday hinted that a certain number on the Herd’s helmets had something to do with the outstanding play.
“I’m so happy on this occasion that our guys were able to rally like they did and play like that,” he said. “I’m happy for our fan base, our community and our school to be able to come out on this occasion with the ‘75’ on their helmet, honoring the Young Thundering Herd and to play the way we played. We have to continue that for the next couple of weeks. It’s amazing that when you put that ‘75’ on your helmet, they seem to make plays they haven’t made.”
Marshall will travel to Florida International on Saturday (Nov. 19) for its final road game of the season.
Holliday hopes that, with two games left, the Herd can bottle up its performance from Saturday night and carry it over for these final two tilts.
The final contest is against rival Western Kentucky — at home on Nov. 26.
“This game right here is going to help us as a football team moving forward,”said Holliday. “We had a lot of young guys out there who had a lot of success and at the end of the day, they felt pretty good about themselves in that locker room.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106