Isaiah Green’s 32-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes play proved to be the difference Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium where Marshall escaped with a 20-17 win over Western Kentucky.
The Thundering Herd (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) rallied after going down 17-13 with 6:50 to go and throwing a near-fatal interception 90 seconds later.
Western (1-4, 0-1 CUSA) had miraculously drove all the way to the Marshall 10 down 20-17, but quarterback Steven Duncan fumbled with 24 seconds left while trying to scramble out of the pocket and Juwon Young recovered it to ice the game.
The Hilltoppers are 1-4 for the first time since 2011.
Marshall recovers a fumble, WKU claiming it’s a forward pass so stay tuned pic.twitter.com/8UrvFZ9k20— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 30, 2018
With the game at a 10-10 stalemate in the fourth quarter, WKU blinked for the first time when freshman running back Josh Samuel fumbled at the Marshall 45 and Frankie Hernandez recovered for the Herd.
Marshall went 11 plays the other direction and chewed up nearly five minutes of clock before settling for a Justin Rohrwasser 21-yard field goal making it 13-10 with 8:39 to go.
On the next possession Duncan wildly overthrew tight end Kyle Fourtenbary and Marshall safety Nazeeh Johnson was there waiting.
Western’s DeAndre Farris countered with a heroic play of his own by picking off Green and returning the ball all the way down to the 11. On the next play Duncan shoveled the ball forward to tight end Mik’Quan Deane who rumbled in for six.
With 6:50 to play, the Hilltoppers had put themselves ahead 17-13 moments after looking dead in the water.
The second straight game the Steven Duncan to Mik’Quan Deane shovel pass turns into a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/FKIQmr82l7— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) September 30, 2018
Duncan to Deane pic.twitter.com/ll2UUbrfE6— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 30, 2018
Key interception from WKU’s Dre Farris pic.twitter.com/JaCgY5ocFt— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) September 30, 2018
The ensuing possession the Western defense stepped up again. A tipped ball landed in the arms of linebacker Masai Whyte with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
But the Tops couldn’t do anything with the gift – and that proved vital.
On 3rd-and-4 on the WKU 32 on the next series, Green, before being delivered a brutal blow, found Brady streaking down the middle of the field for an easy score. That put MU ahead 20-17 with just 1:44 to go.
After a slow start from both offenses, Marshall took its second possession at the WKU 40 and struck quickly. A fake reverse allowed Green to hit a streaking Brady on the post route making it 7-0 less than six minutes into the game.
Western finally got on the board at the end of the period thanks to a speedy Drell Greene punt return that put the ball at the MU 30. Five plays got the ball to the 13 where Ryan Nuss came out and drilled a 23-yard field goal making it 7-3 going into the second.
The Tops caught a break early in the second quarter while Marshall was putting together a nice drive. At the 29 the Herd tried to run a reverse to Ty Tyler who dropped the ball – Jeremy Darvin recovered for WKU for the game’s first turnover.
Western stalled at midfield when it tried to go for it on fourth down and was stuffed, but nickel back Ta’Corian Darden picked up his teammates with a nifty interception on the next play.
That play didn’t equate to points, but an offensive drive later in the quarter sure well did. Duncan’s 43-yard pass to Deane put WKU in business and then the redshirt-sophomore quarterback scored four plays later on a 3-yard, third-down run.
Duncan’s dive put Western up 10-7 with 4:38 to go in the half.
Steven Duncan gives WKU the lead pic.twitter.com/lypZjMqUvg— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 30, 2018
Steven Duncan with the QB keeper for touchdown. That’s gonna feel good in the morning... pic.twitter.com/Q2caFVVNjV— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) September 30, 2018
Marshall’s Justin Rohrwasser hit a 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the half to send the teams into the break tied at 10-10.
The numbers pic.twitter.com/FmWWJ8U8Ft— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 30, 2018
Marshall opened the second half with a long drive down to the WKU 20. Rohrwasser came out to try a 33-yard field goal but defensive lineman Julien Lewis got a paw to it and the ball spun wide left.
That was the only legitimate scoring chance of the period as the two sides went into the final framed knotted at 10-10.
Here were the stats after three quarters pic.twitter.com/ZzhSpP85uU— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 30, 2018
• Western Kentucky redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Xavier Lane did not play Saturday.
• Lewis also had WKU’s most recent field goal block Oct. 10 vs. Charlotte.
• Under coach Mike Sanford, WKU is now 4-5 in conference games, 4-4 at home, 6-8 in night games, 3-5 in September, 1-6 when trailing after the first quarter, 0-1 when tied at halftime and 0-1 when tied after three quarters.
• Western Kentucky and Marshall played Saturday for the 10th time in a series dating back to 1941. The Hilltoppers trail the rivalry 6-4 and are 3-2 in the last four.
• The Tops are now 2-3 in Conference USA openers and 8-10 in league openers since 1999.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 20,811 giving WKU a two-game average this season of 18,264.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop