By Tim Gardner
In a battle of old Southern Conference rivals now playing on the Major College Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, Marshall beat Appalachian State 17-7 Saturday in Huntington, WV.
App State’s impressive winning streak against Group of Five programs from outside the league ended as Marshall pulled out a home win in front of 12,050 fans.
Marshall got strong performances on both sides of the ball. Offensively, running back Brenden Knox rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Grant Wells came up with back-to-back big plays when Marshall needed them badly. Defensively, the Thundering Herd limited the Mountaineers to only 96 yards and stopped them from scoring on their final 10 drives.
Marshall outgained Appalachian State 379-364 in total yards, including by 120 yards in the running game (216-96).
It marked the Thundering Herd’s first win over a ranked opponent at home since 1976.
Appalachian State (1-1) blew a couple of late scoring opportunities and was held scoreless in the second half.
Wells had a lackluster game, but put together consecutive big plays that help key Marshall’s win. The redshirt freshman threw a 67-yard pass down the middle to a wide-open Xavier Gaines to set up Wells’ 12-yard scoring run on the next play for a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter.
Wells finished 11-of-25 for 163 yards.
Appalachian State lost a chance to close the gap early in the fourth period. Thomas hit Mike Evans on a 41-yard pass play. But as Evans was heading toward the end zone for a potential touchdown, Marshall’s Brandon Drayton knocked the ball loose and teammate Nazeeh Johnson recovered for a touchback.
“That’s a big momentum swing,” Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said. “If we score a touchdown, we’re down three and we’ve got the momentum on our side. You go from having the momentum on your side to, ‘Here we go, another turnover.’ We have to get that corrected in a hurry.”
Appalachian State’s Chandler Staton missed a short field goal wide right with 2:54 left.
Thomas completed 22-of-38 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown.
Marshall (2-0) opened with an 11-play, 85-yard drive, capped by Knox’s 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
The Mountaineers got a highlight-reel catch from Jalen Virgil during the first quarter when he grabbed an 11-yard over-the-shoulder ball from Thomas while falling out of the left side of the end zone for a touchdown. Staton kicked the PAT as the game was tied,7-7.
Defensively, linebacker Trey Cobb recorded a career-high 14 tackles for the Mountaineers. Safety Kaiden Smith added 10 and Cobb’s first-half deflection of a pass led to safety Ryan Huff’s first career interception in a game televised nationally by CBS.
Appalachian State will likely fall out of the Top 25 rankings and will host Campbell of the Championship Subdivision next Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone. The Mountaineers also have an Oct. 7 Sun Belt Conference showdown at home against No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette.