Hilltoppers come up just short in conference opener against Marshall

Steven Duncan attempts a pass during WKU’s loss to Marshall on Saturday. Duncan threw for 263 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the game. 

Matt Stahl

WKU football dropped a 20-17 heartbreaker to Marshall Saturday night, as the Hilltoppers had every chance to pull out a victory but couldn’t put it together. 

The Hilltoppers had a goal-to-go situation in the final seconds of the game with a chance to take the lead or tie, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Duncan fumbled and Marshall recovered to end it. It was one of four fumbles that WKU had on the night. 

“Three second-half turnovers I thought was the difference in the game,” WKU head coach Mike Sanford said after the game. “Gave ourselves an opportunity and really in both phases, offense and defense, to finish and that is what we’ve got to do.”

The Hilltopper run game finished with only 61 yards. They had 192 last week against Ball State.

“Josh Samuel obviously did some good things,” Sanford said. “We know we’ve got to take care of the football and that was kind of, that was a turning point in the game.”

Samuel led the WKU rushing attack with 43 yards on 10 attempts. 

After a WKU three-and-out caused by a third-down sack, Marshall opened the scoring on a 40-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Green to redshirt senior wide receiver Tyre Brady with 9:48 left in the first quarter.

The score remained 7-0 until late in the first quarter when a punt return by senior defensive back Drell Greene gave the Hilltoppers favorable starting field position. WKU drove even deeper into Marshall territory before the drive stalled inside the Thundering Herd 10. Senior Ryan Nuss kicked a field goal to put the Hilltoppers on the board with five seconds remaining in the quarter.

Marshall got the ball back and started to drive before a fumble by the Thundering Herd on a failed reverse play was recovered by redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin. The Hilltoppers were stopped on fourth down on the ensuing drive.

The WKU defense came up big again on the next drive with redshirt junior defensive back Ta’Corian Darden picking off Green. Once again, the Hilltoppers were unable to move the ball at all, and failed to convert on fourth down. 

The Hilltoppers finally scored a touchdown with less than five minutes left in the half on a drive aided by a 43-yard pass from Duncan to senior tight end Mik’Quan Deane. The drive finished on a 3-yard scoring run by Duncan to make the score 10-7.

Marshall was able to drive down the field in the last several minutes and kick a field goal to tie the score at 10 before the halftime break.

Senior defensive tackle Julien Lewis came up big by blocking a 33-yard field goal attempt from Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser. The Hilltoppers punted on the ensuing drive.

The Thundering Herd mounted a long drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter, taking the ball down to the WKU 4-yard line before kicking a field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 8:39 left in the game.

WKU took the ball back and seemed to be moving after Duncan made an impressive escape before throwing to sophomore wide receiver Jacquez Sloan for 15 yards. But Duncan threw an interception two plays later.

Marshall’s next drive consisted of one offensive pass interference call and an interception by senior cornerback DeAndre Farris, who took the pick down to the Thundering Herd’s 11-yard line. The next play put the Hilltoppers back in the lead on a shovel pass from Duncan to Deane, their third touchdown connection in two weeks.

Marshall came roaring back near the end of the game, scoring a touchdown on a 32-yard strike from Green to Brady to give the Thundering Herd a 20-17 lead with 1:44 remaining. The touchdown capped off a seven-play, 98-yard drive

The Hilltoppers’ next drive looked to have almost stalled out before Duncan found Sloan for a 60-yard pass down to the Marshall 20. The Hilltoppers got into a goal-to-go situation before Duncan fumbled with 24 seconds remaining. 

Marshall was able to take one knee and end the game, as WKU had no timeouts remaining. 

WKU will be back in action after the bye week, as the Hilltoppers will travel to Charlotte on Oct. 13. 

“We’re ready to put it all together,” Duncan said after the loss. “This team’s really good. We’re really freaking good and I believe in every single one of these guys.”

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.