HUNTINGTON — The first home game in the career of new head coach Charles Huff featured plenty of fireworks.
As in the fireworks going off in the end zone each time Marshall scored — a new addition to Marshall games for 2021 under Huff.
Marshall lit up the scoreboard and the Saturday evening sky at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, using the passing game of Grant Wells to earn a convincing 44-10 win over North Carolina Central in front of 24,521 fans in Huff’s home opener.
Marshall moved to 2-0 on the 2021 season, but Huff was less than impressed with his team’s performance, despite 700 yards of total offense.
Following the game, some fireworks also came from Huff about his team’s need to improve moving forward.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to be in the same situation (as 2020),” Huff said. “We’ll be talking about woulda, coulda, shoulda. I hope, I think our guys see that. I think our guys realize that.”
Wells finished the game 34 of 48 for 347 yards — 257 of which came in the first half. He also had three touchdown passes — two to Talik Keaton, who had his second-straight big game. The freshman from Charleston played just under three quarters before exiting.
However, a pair of early bobbled snaps and an interception at the goal line were the little things that Wells and Huff were focused on.
“We definitely weren’t as efficient as we wanted to be,” Wells said. “We came out slow and when you come out slow, it takes time to get things rolling.”
Keaton caught three passes for 73 yards, including touchdown receptions of 46 and 14 yards in the first half that sprung Marshall to a 30-7 lead.
After the slow start, Wells and the Herd offense got going in the second quarter, scoring 24 points, with both of Keaton’s touchdown receptions coming in the frame.
Rasheen Ali also caught a 3-yard pass from Wells, while Andrew Sanders added a 27-yard field goal after Charlie Gray forced a fumble that Jamare Edwards recovered.
It was part of a night in which NC Central’s offense never found rhythm as Marshall’s pressure consistently got to Eagles quarterback Davius Richard.
Gray led the Marshall defense with six tackles while adding a sack, a forced fumble and a later fumble recovery at the goal line after a hit by E.J. Jackson on Richard negated a potential touchdown for the Eagles.
Despite the inconsistent performance, Marshall took care of business early enough that several starters were able to get out of the game early in the second half.
Wells left late in the third quarter and gave way to backup Luke Zban, who came in and executed the Herd offense well, finishing 6 of 8 through the air for 84 yards while rushing for 43 yards. Like Wells, Zban also had an interception at the goal line, which was a point of contention for Huff.
Freshman running back Ethan Payne also got the first score of his Marshall career on an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The lone touchdown for NC Central came on a throw from Richard to former Marshall running back Latrell Collier, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass out of the backfield. Collier’s score came after a muffed punt by Marshall in the second quarter.
Marshall returns to action at 6 p.m. Saturday against East Carolina at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.