CF’s Yurachek helps Herd to historic victory over Purdue

marsh-yurachekCarolina Forest product and Marshall tight end Ryan Yurachek caught a touchdown pass and made several key reception’s during the game-winning TD drive to help the Thundering Herd to a historic 41-31 victory over visiting Purdue on Sunday at packed Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Junior safety Tiquan Lang started and finished Marshall’s come-from-behind 41-31 victory over the Boilermakers with two interception returns for touchdowns – a first in Herd history. His performance – it also included a game-high 17 tackles and a quarterback hurry that led to another Herd pick – not only set a Marshall single-game record for interception TDs, but also tied the Herd season record.

Lang didn’t do it alone before a sellout crowd of 38,791, the third largest gathering in stadium history as the Herd opened the 25th season at “The Joan” with its biggest gathering for a date that wasn’t a “Coal Bowl” against West Virginia.

Quarterback Michael Birdsong, the James Madison transfer making his first Herd start, was 23-of-36 passing for 234 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was clutch when it counted most, too, going 7-for-8 on a fourth-quarter scoring drive that lifted Marshall to a 34-31 advantage with 2:50 left.

It was Marshall’s first win in history over a Big Ten team, and Birdsong became the first Herd quarterback to beat a power conference team in a season opener since Chad Pennington started his senior season with a triumph at Clemson for the 1999 club that would finish 13-0.

A 30-yard pick-six of Boilers’ QB Austin Appleby by Lang came on the first play of the game. The junior safety’s second pickoff runback was a 55-yarder that sealed the win with 1:20 to go. He had half of the Herd’s four picks.

Lang became only the second player in the 20-season history of Conference USA to score two touchdowns on interceptions, matching the feat by Cincinnati’s Shawn Ferguson in a loss Memphis on Oct. 17, 1998 at the Liberty Bowl. Like Lang on Sunday, Danny Derricott had two in that ’99 game.

Lang’s fellow safety, Taj Letman, made his sixth career interception in the third quarter when Lang got into Appleby’s grill, and cornerback Keith Baxter finished a long day for the MU defense with a game-ending interception and a 32-yard return with 27 seconds remaining.

Offensively, running back Devon Johnson gained 89 yards on 11 carries, but his fumble at the end of a 33-yard run to close the third quarter left Purdue with the ball on its own 25 and a 28-27 lead. The Boilermakers then drove for a Paul Griggs’ 22-yard field goal and the teams traded punts before Birdsong made his Herd debut.

From the Marshall 16, the red-haired QB drove his team 84 yards in 11 plays for a 34-31 lead with 4:41 left. Johnson finished the drive with a 6-yard TD, but most of the real estate was covered by Birdsong on a 7-of-8 passing stretch. He completed passes to slot receiver Hyleck Foster, wideout Justin Hunt and tight end Ryan Yurachek for 2, 9 and 21 yards before connecting with senior Davonte Allen for 5 to get the Herd into Boilers’ territory. Then it was to Yurachek for 8 and Allen for 19 sandwiching a Johnson short rush before an incompletion and another 18-yarder to Allen to set up Johnson’s bull into the end zone for a lead.

Photo courtesy of MU Athletics

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