Herd stood its ground Saturday
HUNTINGTON — Even though the end result was not what they were looking for, Marshall University’s defensive players left Lane Stadium on Saturday feeling good about their effort.
For three and a half quarters of football, Virginia Tech’s offense struggled against the Thundering Herd’s defense, notching just one scoring drive in the first 55 minutes of game action.
Unfortunately for the Herd, the Hokies were able to mount a late drive to tie the game before earning the 29-21 victory in the third overtime on Logan Thomas’ touchdown run and two-point conversion.
Still, it was a big statement for Marshall.
Following a loss to Ohio in which the Bobcats converted several critical plays to sustain lengthy drives, the questions were out there whether Herd wins over Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb were just smoke and mirrors.
Those questions were answered in the rain at Lane Stadium as Marshall contained Thomas and the Hokies for the majority of the contest.
“If you talk to people in the community and to hear some of the things they said about defense, it was like ‘Oh, wow. I can’t believe they actually said that,’” linebacker Neville Hewitt said. “It just motivates you to go out and play against teams like Virginia Tech the way we did.”
Virginia Tech ended the game averaging less than four yards a rush and just 4.4 yards per play. Out of the Hokies’ 382 yards, 126 were gained in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions as the Herd defense wore down a bit.
However, Marshall showed lots of improvement from the loss to Ohio when they had trouble getting off the field on third down.
The Herd returned to its stellar percentage on third-down defense, allowing the Hokies to convert just two of 16 opportunities.
The bugaboo was on fourth down where Virginia Tech converted three of its four chances, including two on the game-tying touchdown drive, which included a tipped pass in the end zone that went to Virginia Tech wide receiver Willie Byrn to tie the game.
“We had plays on film that we rewinded 10 times,” Herd linebacker Evan McKelvey said. “Like the one with Swagg (cornerback Darryl Roberts) where he had the interception in the end zone and it tipped off him and went to the receiver. That’s one where we just watched and said luck just isn’t on our side right now.
“The fact that the coverage was so great and it didn’t happen, you just look and say ‘What do you do?’ What can you say about it? Things happen and that’s just one of them.”
Marshall defenders were disappointed with the plays left out on the field, but there were plenty of them made on the field that had the Herd leading late in the game.
Monterius Lovett’s second-quarter interception led to a go-ahead touchdown pass from quarterback Rakeem Cato to Gator Hoskins and the next drive featured Hewitt’s first career interception. There was also a stuff of Thomas on a fourth-and-1 deep in Marshall territory that kept points off the board.
Cato gave his highest praise to the defense when talking about the contest on Monday.
“That’s probably one of the best defensive games I’ve seen since I’ve been at Marshall,” Cato said. “I congratulated the whole defensive side of the ball and talked to Coach (Chuck) Heater and told him what a great job he did. As an offense, we’ve got to put points on the board and hold up the defense’s end.
“I’ve been saying it for a while now — our defense has been playing great football. Right now, the defense is the strength of our team. They have shown in all four games that they’re a great defense. They are No. 1 in our conference and they just have to keep believing in each other.”
Now finished with the non-conference portion of the season, Marshall is into its bye week leading Conference USA in many categories defensively.
Those categories include scoring defense (19.2 points per game), total defense (285 yards per game), pass defense (184 yards per game), pass defense efficiency (105.9), first downs allowed per game (16.2) and opponents third-down percentage (29.5). Marshall is also second in rushing defense, allowing just 100.5 yards per game on the ground.
It’s that momentum the Herd takes into its bye week as it gets ready for the Oct. 5 conference opener, scheduled for 2 p.m., against UTSA at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
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