HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Redshirt freshman Grant Wells threw a season-high five touchdown passes and No. 16 Marshall commemorated the 50th anniversary of the worst disaster in U.S. sports history during a 42-14 victory over Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
Marshall (7-0, 4-0 Conference USA) got another standout performance from its defense and turned three turnovers into scores on a day when the university and surrounding community remembered 75 people killed in a Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash.
Marshall wore special black uniforms and the No. 75 on its helmets to honor those who were lost, which included most of the Thundering Herd football team. The crash occurred as the team’s plane was returning from a game at East Carolina. There were no survivors.
Wells grew up 50 miles away in Charleston and learned about the Marshall tragedy as a young child. He said this week that playing in the crash's silver anniversary game was going to be surreal.
After several early overthrows, Wells found his groove and Marshall kept the momentum for good. Wells finished 25 of 37 for 336 yards, all season highs. Two of his TD passes each went to Corey Gammage and Willie Johnson.
Late in the second quarter, Wells found Johnson in stride for a 44-yard gain to set up tight end Hayden Hagler's first career TD catch.
Then, after Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O'Hara fumbled the ball away on a hit by Marshall's Darius Hodge, Wells ran for 6 yards and made three straight completions. His 17-yard throw to Gammage put the Thundering Herd ahead 21-7 at halftime.
Wells kept it going after safety Nazeeh Johnson ripped the ball away from Middle Tennessee wide receiver Marquel Tinsley inside the Marshall 10 early in the third.
A 46-yard pass to Johnson and a 14-yarder to Gaines were followed by Gammage's second TD grab. Gammage went up high for a 28-yard catch in the end zone for a 28-7 lead.
Middle Tennessee (2-6, 2-4) couldn’t do much against the nation’s top rush defense. O’Hara, whose 476 rushing yards entering the game were the third most for a quarterback nationally, was limited to 39 yards on 11 carries. He ran for a score, threw for another and completed 29 of 44 passes for 241 yards.
Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders had not played in three weeks after Charlotte called off last week’s game against them due to COVID-19 issues. The postponement came a day before the game and kept Middle Tennessee from getting extra work for Marshall.
Marshall: It was a special performance on an emotional day for the Thundering Herd, which piled up 520 total yards.
Middle Tennessee, which lost at home to Troy earlier this season, is scheduled to play the Trojans on the road next weekend to finish a rare in-season home-and-home series. But Troy's game Saturday against No. 15 Coastal Carolina was postponed Friday due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests and injuries for a specific position group within the Troy football team.
Marshall: Hosts Charlotte next Saturday.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25