A thrilling second-half performance by the McLean Highlanders turned the Marshall Statesmen's comfortable halftime lead into a nail-biting finish on the Highlanders' home turf last Friday night, but McLean couldn't quite pull itself out of its early hole, falling 28-21.
Marshall opened up a 21-6 halftime edge through the combination of some big plays and a staunch defense that stiffened inside of its own red zone. With a 7-0 lead, the Statesmen defense tightened as McLean quarterback Greg Love drove his team within 10 yards of the end zone, forcing the Highlanders to settle for a short field goal by Alex Rosembaum. Following a kickoff return to midfield, Marshall's Doug Howell broke through the McLean defense for a 55-yard touchdown run. The extra point made the score 14-3 in favor of the Statesmen barely a minute after McLean first got on the board.
McLean's Love gave his team an infusion of excitement on special teams. Receiving the kickoff, Love juked and sped past tacklers and seemed destined for the end zone before tripping up inside the Marshall 20-yard line. The Highlanders squandered the great field position however, with an interception giving the ball back to the Statesmen. Another interception, this time with Love throwing from inside his own red zone, set up another touchdown run by Howell, a two-yard plunge that put the Statesmen up 21-3.
As the seconds ticked down towards halftime, McLean drove down the field yet again, but still couldn't breach the goal line. The Highlanders instead came away with just a field goal to head into halftime trailing by 15.
A rejuvenated McLean team stormed out of the gates in the second half, and a three-yard run by Aaron Cornwell drew the Highlanders within eight points. While the Highlander defense stood its ground for most of the second half, it could not stand in the way of Howell's third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, a seven-yard scamper that ultimately supplied the deciding margin.
McLean drew back within seven after a one-yard touchdown run by Cornwell and a two-point conversion pass from Love to Justin Johnson, but time expired on the Highlander comeback.
Howell's 15 carries for 98 yards and three touchdowns highlighted the offense for Marshall, while Love led the Highlanders with 75 yards on the ground. He finished 5 of 14 through the air for 43 yards with a pair of interceptions.
The win by Marshall is the team's first in Liberty District play this season, while McLean remains winless against district opponents thus far. Marshall will face Jefferson this Friday at home when the Statesmen celebrate their homecoming. McLean hits the road to face South Lakes. Both contests begin at 7:30 p.m.