With a winning percentage of .816 in Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the Marshall Thundering Herd are hard to beat at home. They looked the part early in the contest, but couldn’t sustain their form throughout the entire game.
The visiting Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were able to walk away with a 53-21 victory on Saturday, clinching Conference USA’s East division as well as a spot in the league title game against the UTSA Roadrunners, who clinched the league’s West division last week.
WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe continued his impressive season with 328 yards through the air and four passing touchdowns thanks to 25 completions on 48 attempts. That brings his passing touchdown season total to 52. With this stat, Zappe breaks two records, the record for most passing TDs in a season at WKU and the C-USA record for passing TDs in a season. Both were set by former Hilltopper Brandon Doughty in 2014. Zappe is also 87 yards shy of passing WKU’s single season record for passing yards in a season.
Herd quarterback Grant Wells left in the second quarter with an injury and did not return. He finished the day with 10 completions on 14 attempts for 76 yards and a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. Wells would be replaced by Luke Zban who completed 16 of 25 for 123 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
While Marshall took a 14-6 lead into halftime, the Western Kentucky offense went on to score 23 points in the third to quickly retake the lead. The Tops then added 24 more in the fourth while Marshall were only able to score one touchdown in the fourth.
Aside from the injury to Wells, Marshall’s usually stout defense were unable to keep up their usual standard in this game. The Herd entered this game allowing an average of only 20 points in this game and an average of 187 passing yards. Tyson Helton’s offensive attack caused those averages to jump up.
Offensively, the Herd were also largely ineffective on third down converting three of 14 attempts in such circumstances. Their bright spot was, unsurprisingly, running back Rasheen Ali who finished with a net of 97 yards. Ali failed to find the end zone in the rushing or passing attack for just the third time this season.
The Tops’ large lead in the second half gave them the opportunity to take their foot off of the gas a bit. Considering how close Zappe is to several of the NCAA single season passing records, it’s somewhat surprising they did so. Nevertheless, this gave WKU the opportunity to put up their largest rushing yardage total of the season with 157.
Marshall end their regular season with a record of 7-5 as they await their bowl destination.
The Hilltoppers travel to San Antonio to face UTSA on December 3 in the Conference USA Championship.