HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Once the Herd got it going, it sure was tough to stop.
The Marshall football team churned out 620 total yards of offense and claimed their ninth consecutive season-opening victory on Saturday with a convincing 56-17 decision over visiting Virginia Military Institute at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Cabell County.
The Thundering Herd (1-0) mustered only seven yards on a pair of three-and-outs during their first two offensive possessions, but the hosts produced scores on seven of their next nine possessions en route to a substantial 49-7 cushion with just over four minutes left in the third period.
The Keydets (0-1) rallied with a pair of consecutive scoring drives that allowed the Red and Gold to close back to within 49-17 with 8:48 left in regulation.
The Green and White — who had seven different players account for touchdowns — tacked on their final score of the evening when former quarterback turned tight end Garet Morrell hauled in an 11-yard pass from Alex Thomson with 4:31 remaining.
MU showed a balanced approach as the hosts produced 280 rushing yards while throwing for five touchdowns — three of which came in the first half — and accumulating 340 yards through the air.
Talik Keaton added Marshall’s second score on special teams with a 67-yard punt return late in the first quarter. Kicker Justin Rohrwasser was also a perfect 8-for-8 on point-after tries and had five kickoffs result in touchbacks.
The Herd defense produced four sacks, forced nine punts and allowed only 56 rushing yards while surrendering a total of 257 yards of total offense in the 39-point outcome.
It was the first meeting between these former Southern Conference rivals in 23 years, with Marshall picking up its 15th consecutive victory over VMI while increasing its all-time series lead to 15-5 overall.
Willie Johnson broke the scoreless tie with 3:09 remaining in the first quarter after hauling in a 29-yard pass from Isaiah Green, making it a 7-0 contest.
Marshall followed with a quick three-and-out stand that forced a punt, and Keaton answered with a 67-yard return for a 14-0 edge with 1:42 left in the opening stanza.
After forcing another punt, MU marched 89 yards in seven plays while increasing its lead to 21 points as Artie Henry hauled in a 51-yard pass from Green with 13:24 remaining in the second canto.
VMI, however, needed only one play and 14 seconds to get on the scoreboard as Reece Udinski found a wide-open Lara Javeon on a 50-yard scoring pass that cut the deficit down to 21-7 with 13:10 remaining. The guests were also never closer the rest of the way.
Xavier Gaines hauled in a 4-yard TD pass from Green with 4:14 left, then Brenden Knox added a 1-yard TD run as the first half clock expired — giving the Herd a 35-7 advantage headed into the break.
Green threw his fourth and final TD pass on a 33-yard connection with Corey Gammage at the 9:58 mark of the third, making it a 42-7 contest. Knox added his second rushing score from 1-yard out with 4:25 left in the third for a 49-7 advantage.
The Keydets put together a pair of 49-yard scoring drives on their next two possessions. Grant Clemons nailed a 28-yard field goal 23 seconds into the fourth period, then Seth Morgan added a 3-yard TD run with 8:48 left to close the gap down to 49-17.
Marshall claimed a 35-17 advantage in first downs and had only three of the dozen punts in the contest. The Keydets were plus-1 in turnover differential and produced the only points on miscues with the Morgan score in the fourth quarter.
Marshall had seven different rushers produced positive yardage, with Tyler King leading the way with 75 yards on 10 carries. Sheldon Evans was next with 56 yards on seven attempts, while Knox added 43 yards on 10 totes.
Green completed 18-of-28 passes for 238 yards, throwing four TDs and one interception. Green also ran for 48 yards on eight tries.
Corey Gammage led the MU wideouts with five catches for 82 yards, with Tavin Richardson and Armani Levias each hauling in three passes for 23 and 21 yards respectively. The Herd had 11 different receivers catch at least one pass in the triumph.
Tavante Beckett led the Marshall defense with seven tackles, with Nazeeh Johnson and Jaquan Yulee adding six stops each. Tyler Brown, Channing Hames and Naquan Renalds had a sack apiece, while Yulee and Kob Cumberlander also combined on a sack.
Jaylon McClain-Sapp recorded Marshall’s lone takeaway with an interception with less than four minutes left in regulation. The hosts also made eight tackles-for-loss.
Alex Ramsey led the VMI ground attack with 45 yards on 11 carries, while Udinski completed 20-of-35 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown. Rohan Martin led the wideouts with seven catches for 71 yards.
Najee Lawrence paced the Keydets with 11 tackles, while Austin Barrette added seven stops to go along with team’s lone sack. Will Bunton came away with an interception in the second frame and Eric Weaver recovered a fumble with 11:56 left in the finale.
Marshall returns to action Friday night when it travels to Boise State for a non-conference matchup at 9 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.