Yes, the Marshall offense was hot. Quarterback Byron Leftwich hit his go-to guy, Darius Watts for two Marshall scores, while Denero Marriott hauled in the other on a fourth-down play that worked like a charm. Watts' first TD grab came on MU's first possession, a five-yard pass with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
Chris Crocker returns his interception of NIU's Chris Finlen.
Photo by Don Vaughan
Little more than one minute later, Sam Goines, the 6-1, 218-pound senior linebacker from Landover Hills, Maryland, delivered a vicious hit in the first quarter on NIU quarterback Chris Finlen. The hit knocked the football loose from Finlen's hands, and Marshall tackle Orlando Washington suddenly found himself waltzing into the endzone for the easy touchdown.
That first quarter statement from Marshall pretty much set the tone for the day in DeKalb.
Despite gusting winds at Huskies Stadium, Marshall kicker Curtis Head booted a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter, giving Marshall a 17-7 lead. The Herd would never look back.
NIU's receivers, on the other hand, spent the second half looking back (and out) for Goines.
On fourth and nine midway through the third quarter, Marshall's Denero Marriott took a screen pass and converted it into a 31-yard touchdown score. Delivering his second knockout punch of the day, Sam Goines then dropped NIU receiver P.J. Fleck hard to the Field Turf. The Chris Finlen pass intended for Fleck shot straight into the hands of Marshall linebacker Michael Owens, who sprinted untouched 25 yards into the endzone.
"I'm really proud of our football team," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said after the game. "For some reason, we were picked to lose up here. Maybe we're a little better than people think we are."
The only glaring drawback to today's game was the fact that Marshall was penalized 17 times during the game. Six were holding penalties.
Still, the Marshall defense made a statement today in DeKalb. "All year long on defense we've had to pick and choose, use a band-aid here and there. They came together and played really hard today," Pruett added.
Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich finished the day throwing 16-of-29, for 184 yards and his first interception in nearly 250 passing attempts. Running back Franklin Wallace kept his return to action going in pleasant fashion, racking up 109 yards on 23 carries. Trod Buggs added 49 yards in the mostly ground-oriented Marshall attack.
Marshall's air attack was led by Darius Watts, with five catches for 72 yards, 2 TDs. Josh Davis had five catches for 39 yards, and Denero Marriott had four catches for 62 yards and 1 TD.
The Marshall defense held Northern Illinois to only 237 yards total offense in the game, intercepting three Finlen passes, and held NIU RB Thomas Hammock to only 67 yards rushing.
Marshall now moves to 3-1 (2-0 MAC East) on the season, and next goes on the road to face the Buffalo Bulls on Saturday, October 13 in Buffalo, NY. Game time is 1pm.
Read all about Marshall's win over No. Illinois in next week's issue of Herd Insider -- the ONLY weekly publication covering Marshall sports exclusively.