RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In his first start of the season, MJ Morris threw a career-best four touchdown passes as North Carolina State topped Marshall 48-41 on Saturday afternoon.
Morris, a sophomore, completed 17-of-32 passes for 265 yards. He threw three interceptions – including two in the first quarter – but settled into the game and put N.C. State (4-2) into a position to win.
“He gave us the spark we needed,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “He’s a mentally tough young man. Wouldn’t expect anything less from him. He’s going to respond – that’s who he is – when he gets in a tough situation, he’s going to fight.”
Marshall (4-1) saw its nine-game win streak that dated to last season snapped. Cam Fancher led the Thundering Herd with a season-high 315 passing yards and four touchdowns – two passing and two rushing.
The clash between the Herd and Wolfpack turned into a fast-paced shootout that featured six lead changes. When the dust settled, it was the highest scoring game either team had been part of all season.
After Marshall scored on a 28-yard pass from Fancher to Jayden Harrison in the third quarter, N.C. State responded almost immediately and grabbed the lead for good. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Morris found Trent Pennix wide open in the middle of the field for a 62-yard touchdown – the longest offensive score of the season for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State added two field goals from Brayden Narveson and an eight-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Kevin Concepcion to pad its lead. Concepcion and Pennix each scored two touchdowns.
While both offenses were explosive, the Wolfpack’s ability to pressure Fancher was crucial. N.C. State tallied six quarterback hurries along with a season-high six sacks. Three of those sacks were on third or fourth downs.
“The difference between Power Five and Group of Five is depth,” Marshall coach Charles Huff said. “But we had opportunities to win the game. We had opportunities to close out the game, and we made way too many mistakes in those moments to finish it out.”
N.C. State: Morris provided the Wolfpack with an offensive spark as he completed four passes that went for more than 30 yards and led seven drives that ended with N.C. State putting points on the board. Former starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong played two snaps near the goal line but failed to generate any meaningful offense. The job belongs to Morris for the foreseeable future.
Marshall: The Herd couldn’t notch their second win of the season over an Atlantic Coast Conference team but proved that they have a potent offense after scoring 41 points for the second consecutive week. Despite this defeat, Marshall should be seen as a contender for its conference title as it enters the thick of Sun Belt play.
KENNEDY, WILSON ANCHOR PACK DEFENSE
The engines that seem to make N.C. State’s defense go are a pair of fifth-year defenders in defensive back Robert Kennedy and linebacker Payton Wilson.
Kennedy’s play was crucial in the fourth quarter as he recovered a fumble and picked off a pass, both of which led to scores for the Wolfpack. He finished the game with four tackles and a forced fumble too.
And for the fifth straight game, Wilson had double-digit tackles, finishing Saturday’s contest with 14. The fifth-year defender entered the Marshall game leading the ACC in tackles and was named National Linebacker of the Month for September by the Butkus Foundation.
“For me, personally, I want to make every single play when I’m on that field,” Wilson said. “If there’s 75 snaps in the game, I want to make 75 tackles. I want to have every single play.”
Marshall finished the game with 104 rushing yards, its lowest total since an Oct. 29, 2022 loss at Coastal Carolina.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack resume ACC play next Saturday, playing at in-state rival Duke.
Marshall: Georgia State hosts the Herd next Saturday in Atlanta.
N.C. State safety Rakeim Ashford left the game in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return. … College Football Hall of Fame member Lou Holtz was in attendance and honored on the field to honor the 50th anniversary of N.C. State’s 1973 season, in which he coached the Wolfpack to an undefeated record in ACC play. … N.C. State is now 6-0 all-time against Marshall.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll