CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An explosive third quarter ultimately made all of the difference.
The Marshall football team extended a 7-point halftime advantage with 21 straight points in third canto Saturday en route to a 49-28 victory over host Charlotte in a Conference USA East Division matchup at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
The Thundering Herd (7-4, 5-2 CUSA East) found itself in a quick 7-0 hole after the opening drive of the game, but the guests answered with six of the next seven touchdowns — half of which came in that pivotal third stanza — while building a comfortable 42-14 cushion headed into the finale.
The 49ers (5-6, 3-4) eventually ended Marshall’s 28 consecutive points string at the 11:37 mark of the fourth as Cameron Dollar hauled in a 4-yard pass from Chris Reynolds for a 42-21 deficit.
Sheldon Evans pushed the MU lead back out to 28 points with a 25-yard scamper with 8:36 remaining. ChaVon McEachern completed the scoring by grabbing a 5-yard TD pass from James Foster with 4:33 left to wrap up the 21-point outcome.
The victory sets up a winner-take-all showdown with Western Kentucky (7-4, 6-1) on Saturday as the Hilltoppers come to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the regular season finale. The winner of that game earns the East Division spot in the Conference USA championship game on Friday, Dec. 3.
The Herd churned out 588 yards of total offense, their highest output against any Conference USA opponent this fall and third highest total overall this year. The guests also forced the only two turnovers of the game and also scored seven points off of those two takeaways.
Charlotte struck first as Reynolds found Keith Pearson, Jr. with a 6-yard scoring pass with 8:42 left in the first quarter, giving the hosts a quick 7-0 edge.
MU countered with the first of three Rasheen Ali touchdown runs at the 5:14 mark after a 25-yard scamper tied things up at 7-all.
Ali added his second TD run — this time from five yards out — with 12:12 left in the first half for Marshall’s first lead of 14-7.
The 49ers again tied things up at 14-all after Dollar hauled in a 21-yard pass from Reynolds at the 4:13 mark of the second quarter.
Marshall answered with a quick 64-yard touchdown strike from Grant Wells to Corey Gammage with 3:26 left to go in the half, allowing the guests to take a 21-14 advantage into the break.
Xavier Gaines hauled in a 22-yard TD pass from Wells on the opening drive of the second half, doubling the lead out to 28-14 with 11:49 remaining in the third.
Evans followed up a Nazeeh Johnson interception with a 15-yard touchdown run with 7:45 left, then Ali tacked on his final score from four yards out with 2:07 remaining in the third for a commanding 42-14 lead.
The Herd produced 321 rushing yards and held UC to 364 yards of total offense, all while claiming a 29-23 edge in first downs. Both teams missed their lone field goal attempt in the contest, but each squad was also perfect on all kicking point-after tries.
Ali paced Marshall with 203 rushing yards on 23 attempts and Evans added 68 yards on nine carries.
Wells finished the day 21-of-28 passing for 267 yards and two scores. Jayden Harrison led the wideouts with five catches for 38 yards. Six different receivers for MU caught at least one pass.
Cory McCoy and Steven Gilmore both led the Herd with nine tackles apiece. Johnson had a third quarter interception and Rodney Croom recovered a fumble late in the second quarter.
Shadrick Byrd led Charlotte with 61 rushing yards on 14 carries. Reynolds was 19-of-34 passing for 176 yards and three scores to go along with the one interception. Grant DuBose led the hosts with six catches for 70 yards.
Jon Alexander had a team-high 12 tackles for the 49ers. Luke Martin also made 10 stops in the setback.
The Herd hosts Western Kentucky for Conference USA East Division title on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.