With Morris at QB, NC State outlasts Marshall 48-41

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Sunday, October 8, 2023
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- NC State was looking for an offensive spark after announcing earlier this week that MJ Morris would replace Brennan Armstrong at quarterback.

On Saturday, the Wolfpack got its highest offensive output of the season in a 48-41 win against Marshall.

"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."

It was far from perfect. Morris threw three interceptions and completed barely more than half of his passes, but also connected for a career-high four touchdown passes.

Morris, a sophomore, completed 17-of-32 passes for 265 yards. Two of his interceptions came in the first quarter, including one returned for a touchdown.

Marshall (4-1) saw its nine-game win streak that dated to last season snapped. Quarterback 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 a part of all season.

NC State's defense struggled all day to slow the Thundering Herd but sacked Fancher six times.

For the fifth consecutive game, Payton Wilson had double-digit tackles, finishing Saturday's contest with 14. The Wolfpack's fifth-year linebacker 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.

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.

NC State's Trent Pennix celebrates one of his two touchdown catches Saturday against Marshall.
Karl B DeBlaker

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 apiece.

Marshall scored on a fourth-down touchdown pass with 1:29 left to pull within one possession but on the ensuing onside kick, Chris Toudle recovered for the Wolfpack and game appeared in hand.

However, NC State had a first down negated by a critical holding penalty and had to punt, giving the Herd a final crack.

A tremendous punt pinned Marshall at its own 3-yard line with 51 seconds left and the Herd was unable to convert a first-down. NC State took over on downs with 28 seconds left and ran out the clock on a wild affair.

"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 is now 6-0 all-time against Marshall.

The Wolfpack improved to 4-2 going into next week's huge Atlantic Coast Conference matchup at No. 19 Duke.

Despite the mistakes, Morris provided the spark the Pack was looking for 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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed.