Rice runs over Marshall
HOUSTON -- Marshall University's dreams of a Conference USA football championship came to a cold, hard stop Saturday as Rice dominated from the onset and didn't let up to defeat the Thundering Herd, 41-24, in front of an announced 20,247 spectators at Rice Stadium.
"You have to give it to Rice and Coach (David) Bailiff," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "That football team played extremely well and you have to give them credit.
"It's unfortunate that we didn't play as well as we liked and we have to get better."
After the loss Marshall officially accepted a bid to the Military Bowl, which will be played at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Md., against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent to be determined.
Rice dictated from the start, scoring on a trick play on the first drive and keeping the Herd on its heels throughout the contest.
Trailing by 11 at halftime, Marshall's best chance at getting back into the game ended on the first drive of the second half when Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato was intercepted by Rice safety Julius White at the Owls' 22-yard line.
Marshall's offense, which had averaged 601 yards in the last five games, found itself limited to just 371 yards in the loss.
Cato was 24 of 41 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns, but Marshall's rushing attack didn't get in gear. Essray Taliaferro was limited to 53 rushing yards and Steward Butler was injured early in the game, taking away the Herd's one-two punch in the backfield.
The passing game was also limited as Rice's secondary blanketed receivers, forcing Marshall to make tough catches. The Herd didn't help its own cause with dropped passes early in the game, either.
"As an offensive group, we didn't make plays," Cato said. "We didn't put enough points on the board to win the ballgame."
Rice used the early second-half turnover to jumpstart a third quarter when the Owls outscored Marshall 13-0 on a 17-yard run by Darik Dillard and an 8-yard pass from Luke Turner to Connor Cella to take a commanding 34-10 lead.
Marshall was able to get a touchdown on Cato's 7-yard scoring pass to Essray Taliaferro with 11:02 left, but the Herd elected not to go for two, leaving the game a three-score contest at 34-17.
"There's a time that you need to go for two, and early on, we didn't absolutely," Holliday said. "We felt like we had a shot of getting the onside kick at the end and didn't get it unfortunately."
The onside kick came after Marshall answered a 16-yard scoring run by Charles Ross, which came after Marshall was stopped on downs, with a 3-yard TD pass from Cato to Devon Smith to once again cut it to 17 after no two-point conversion attempt.
The Owls excelled on both sides of the field to earn their first conference championship since winning the Southwest Conference in 1957.
In addition to the defense shutting off the Herd offense, Rice's offense used the veteran play of quarterback Taylor McHargue and a little bit of trickery to jump out to a 14-0 lead just seven minutes into the game.
On the first Rice drive of the day a halfback pass from Turner found Donte Moore for a 35-yard score. Turner took a toss to the right, which drew cornerback Monterius Lovett up in run support. Moore got in behind Lovett and walked into the end zone.
"That was very unexpected," Lovett said. "I didn't do my job. I saw the run and I came up when I wasn't supposed to. That was on me. That was my fault. I had my eyes in the wrong place."
Turner, a running back, finished 2-of-2 passing for 43 yards with both going for scores while rushing for 39 yards to earn game Most Valuable Player honors.
After forcing a three-and-out, McHargue found Jordan Taylor for a 75-yard score after Taylor got in behind Marshall's Corey Tindal. Taylor had 131 yards on six receptions.
Marshall attempted a response, but a failed third-down inside the Owls' 10-yard line led to a 27-yard field goal by Justin Haig to get the Herd on the board.
That momentum was short-lived as Rice was back in the end zone four plays later when Ross bowled in from four yards out after McHargue completed passes of 28 and 20 yards to get the Owls back into the red zone.
Trailing 21-3, the Herd finally got into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Devon Johnson with 9:18 left in the half. Johnson's run came after Cato avoided a sack with a stiff-arm and hit Gator Hoskins for a 27-yard gain.
Marshall's defense finally got the stops it needed to gain possession, but the Herd's final three possessions of the half each started inside their own 10-yard line and Rice went to the half with a two-score lead.
The kickoff temperature of 35 degrees was the coldest for a C-USA championship, beating the 46 degree start of the 2008 game in Tulsa, Okla.
Despite the loss, Marshall is heading back to a bowl game for the first time since winning the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl two years ago. It is the Herd's third bowl game in five years.
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