HUNTINGTON — There are some records that, once you see them in print, you never expect to be broken.
Ron Darby’s single-game rushing record of 262 yards, set in 1988, was one of those records.
In 2014, football had changed from the days of Darby, morphing from a power-based game to a pass-happy attack on turf.
Like many other schools at the time, Marshall was a pass-happy attack behind quarterback Rakeem Cato, and running back Devon Johnson was effective in keeping teams honest due to his powerful style. He was, more or less, a decoy to enable the passing attack, though.
Therefore, you’d never expect to see Darby’s record broken. It did, however, and in the oddest way possible, too.
On Oct. 25, 2014, Johnson rushed for 272 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries to break Darby’s record, which fell after a 26-year run. Looking at the statistics, it may seem that Johnson just ran over the Owls. That 11.3 yard-per-carry average lends itself to such thoughts.
However, that wasn’t how it went down at all.
Ironically, Johnson didn’t really bowl over people in this game and Florida Atlantic — for the most part — defended him better in that game than nearly all other opponents in 2014.
“The kid rushed for 272 yards,” you are saying in your head right now. “This quarantine has got you crazy, Grant.”
Well, you’re right in that final assessment, but I’m also right in my initial assessment.
Johnson rushed for 272 yards, but 186 of those yards came on three of his four touchdown carries. And of Johnson’s 24 carries, 11 of them went for three yards or fewer, showing that the Owls — for the most part (key phrase) — defended him well.
It started with a 58-yard touchdown run on Marshall’s first offensive play, continued with a 62-yard scoring run in the second quarter and finished with a 66-yard rumble early in the fourth quarter.
That 66-yarder in the fourth quarter came on the third play of the final period and essentially broke the back of Florida Atlantic, who trailed by just five at the time against an undefeated Marshall team.
There was a common theme to the plays, too.
On all three of those long touchdown runs, Florida Atlantic had a safety get out of position while heading toward a receiver, which essentially opened up a clear path for Johnson. With the safeties gone, the offensive line did its job and cleared holes, which Johnson took full advantage of while showcasing his speed, an underrated aspect to the late running back’s game.
While Darby’s record-setting effort came in methodical fashion (47 carries, 262 yards, four TDs), Johnson’s job of breaking the record came in quick-burst fashion.
That quick-burst fashion wasn’t what Johnson enjoyed about switching from tight end to linebacker to running back, though. It was punishing people while having the football in his hands. That, not breakaway speed, is how you earn the nickname “Rockhead.”
Heck, Johnson used to smile at the reference of being a linebacker in the running back spot.
That’s why the record-setting performance came with such irony. Darby’s record was the unlikeliest of Marshall records to be broken, and Johnson broke it in his unlikeliest way possible.