– By David Walsh
A lot of good things happened for Marshall Football on Saturday night against Georgia Southern.
Running back Rasheen Ali saw his first action of the season. The defense, which leads or is leading in almost every category in the Sun Belt Conference, allowed just one touchdown. The offensive rushed for 583 total yards as quarterback Cam Fancher led with perhaps his most efficient play as a starter as he rushed for 337 combined yards.
All of that weaponry proved too much for the Eagles as Marshall prevailed 23-10 in front of 16,153 fans at Allen Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia to go bowlable with seven wins. The Herd (7-4, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference) needed seven as they defeated two FBC teams.
Georgia Southern (5-6, 2-5 Sun Belt) must beat Appalachian State at home next week to qualify for the Bowl.
Ali carried 16 times for 79 yards. Khalan Laborn, who was replaced by Ali when the 2021 Conference USA freshman was injured preseason, added 70 of 17 carries.
Then on his fourth start, Fancher completed 17 of 32 for 274 yards and two points and carried 14 times for 63 yards and a point. Marshall rushed with 255 to go with Fancher’s pass production.
Georgia Southern had a total of 384 yards – 179 rushing and 205 passing. In the second half, however, the Eagles only rushed for 138 yards. Jalen White led the home team’s runners with 143 yards on 13 attempts, with 100 coming in period one.
“It was a tough, brave win,” said Herd coach Charles Huff. “It was not nice. The team scored a lot of points. Great night for the herd.”
Ali’s presence surprised almost everyone. He missed the first 10 games until rehab.
“There’s a plan for everything we do,” Huff said. “We didn’t want teams to prepare for him. This is a good start.”
Laborn, who has become a backfield workhorse, now has 1,323 yards with 14 touchdowns.
The younger players also saw action and Huff saw good things from them.
“Some guys took a while to develop,” Huff said. “Obviously Cam did a really good job. He mastered the game well. EJ (Horton) joins. We started quickly and the defense played that out.”
On his first possession, the herd saw Fancher complete a short pass, Laborn ran twice, and then Fancher found left-handed and redshirt newcomer EJ Horton for a 65-yard score. Horton ran down the middle and got behind Georgia Southern Secondary and sped into the end zone.
Georgia Southern then seemed to recover, only to see a downed Marshall 20 recalled for an illegal block. The Eagles went for a 46-yard field goal from Alex Raynor.
Fancher threw his second TD pass early in the second when he found Shadeed Ahmed open on a cross, Ahmed got a shield from an official and rushed 33 yards for the score. The ride covered 64 yards.
On his next drive, Georgia Southern fumbled the ball away when quarterback Kyle Vantrease seemed to miss the handover to a defender. Damion Barber Jr. of the herd recovered at Visitor 43.
In third and sixth at 47, fancher found Jayden Harrison for 28 yards before going wide. On the next snap, Fancher took the ball, stepped back, then ran across a hole to the left side of the line and went 19 yards on goal and the 20-3 lead.
The Eagles finally got going on their final drive of the half. Starting from their 15 years, they went the distance in eight games, with Vantrease hitting Khaleb Hood on a tunnel screen for a 27-yard TD. In the game before, the herd appeared to be stopped, but a pass interference call on D’Yani Hill gave the Eagles a first down on the 27th minute.
The only goal of the second half came from a 36-yard field goal by Rece Vanhoff. On that drive, the herd covered 65 yards in 15 games and lost 5:23. Laborn had runs for 11 and 14 yards and Ali had one for 15 on the drive.
Georgia Southern has now lost three times in a row. Marshall leads the all-time streak 5-2. The two schools were formerly members of what was then the I-AA Southern Conference. They last played before Saturday in 1996.
Vantrease, a transfer from Buffalo, had 3,306 passing yards and 21 touchdowns that came into play.
Marshall extended his winning streak to three. It ended with a 4-2 record in road games.
Marshall ends the regular season at home against Georgia State next Saturday. Kick-off is at 12pm at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Panthers (4-7, 3-4 in the Sun Belt) lost to James Madison 42-40 on Saturday after leading 34-14 at halftime.
“Find a way for these seniors to date,” Huff said. “One more time at Joan. Concentrate on the task at hand. Do the job at elite level.”
Marshall players wore decals on the backs of their helmets to honor the three University of Virginia players who were killed last Sunday while returning from a field trip to see a play in Washington, DC. The shooting happened while they were still on the bus.