Andrew Ramspacher: Brown anticipated game's critical play
As Marshall football coach Doc Holliday's postgame press conference was wrapping up, Donald Brown sneaked in through the side door, making a slight ruckus.
"What the heck do they want you for?" Holliday jokingly asked as his sophomore safety stood sheepishly by the door.
Well, Doc for a lot of things.
For assisting in the bottling up of an explosive UTEP offense. For making five tackles and a pass break-up. And most importantly, for making the play of the game.
After a Trevor Vittatoe 23-yard touchdown pass to Kris Adams moved the Miners ahead, 12-7, with 5 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, momentum was well in UTEP's corner.
A successful 2-point conversion would have given the Miners a touchdown and extra point lead that seemed all too safe against a Marshall offense that hadn't sparked any signs of life in the second half.
So Coach Mike Price went for it, putting Trevor Vittatoe in the shotgun and sending Marlon McClure in motion from the left to the right side.
Donald Brown knew what was going to transpire.
"They ran it earlier in the game and I tried to tell Ahmed Shakoor to get out there on it," Brown said. "As soon as (McClure) came in motion, I knew what was coming.
"So I just had to patiently wait on it and jump it.
"I mean, he threw it right to me."
Vittatoe sure did. Right in Brown's gut at the goal line.
Now all there was left to do was run. Far.
So Brown took off, looking untouchable as he sped past his own 10, 20, 30 and 40-yard lines. When he got to midfield, the juice started to go away. When he got to the UTEP 20, he nearly got caught by Miners running back Donald Buckram.
"I tried to do a little jump and it worked," Brown said about his move to avoid Buckram, who was nipping at his heels.
Brown didn't stop until he scored the most important 2 points of the game. Instead of being down a touchdown, the Herd moved within a field goal.
"That interception was what ignited us the most," Holliday said. "I felt the wind coming out of the sails of the stadium when they scored. But that 100-yard return ignited us and got the fans back into the game."
Got the offense back in there too. After Brown's 2-point take-back, Marshall marched 56 yards in 3:38 for the winning touchdown, a Tron Martinez 1-yard run with 1:47 left.
"That was beautiful, man," Vinny Curry said.
Brown's play was the first time Marshall had turned such a trick since 1995 when Melvin Cunningham returned a 2-point pass attempt for a score against The Citadel.
RUNNING MAN: Yes, that was Brian Anderson who was busting off runs of 10-plus yards.
The normally not-so fleet of foot Marshall quarterback took off five times for a whopping 43 yards.
"He looked like (H-D columnist) Chuck Landon running out there," Holliday said. "I don't know if that's a compliment to Chuck or Brian."
LINEUP CHANGES: Besides running back Tron Martinez's surprise start, Tyson Gale also got the nod at middle linebacker as the Marshall defense sat back in the nickel formation for the majority of the contest.
The more defensive back-heavy look put Rashad Jackson, Monterius Lovett and Ahmed Shakoor in as corners. The three stayed together until a pass interference penalty on Jackson in the first quarter took the redshirt junior out. He was replaced by freshman Darryl Roberts.
The Herd defense also featured three down linemen -- Vinny Curry, Michael Janac and Marques Aiken -- in the nickel set.
Marshall went with this defensive strategy last week at East Carolina to stop the Pirates' dangerous passing game. To an extent, it worked as quarterback Dominique Davis was held to a season-low 208 yards through the air. However, it also yielded 194 rushing yards.
UTEP racked up 229 passing yards and 144 rushing yards.
INJURY REPORT: Sophomore receiver Antavious Wilson went down because of a knee injury in the first quarter and didn't return to the game. He sported a brace on his right knee as he watched from the sideline. ... Senior guard Landis Provancha also went out in the first half. Alex Schooler was his replacement.
WHERE'S TROY?: A week after the best game of his Herd career, junior receiver Troy Evans barely touched the field Saturday.
He made six grabs for 50 yards and a touchdown against East Carolina, but all he did for three and a half quarters against UTEP was sit on the bench with a pair of towels draped over his head.
Evans finally got game action on a late drive in the fourth quarter.
WELCOME BACK: UTEP can't get rid of Ahmad Bradshaw.
Four years after Bradshaw burned the Miners for 261 yards and five touchdowns for Marshall in a 49-21 win, he was back on the same field as them Saturday.
The NFL's leading rusher was introduced to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium crowd in the first quarter. The 5-foot-9, 198-pounder has piled up 708 yards and three touchdowns this season for the New York Giants.
Bradshaw's 2,982 yards at Marshall rank him fifth all-time.
HOLLYWOOD ENDING: Both schools involved in Saturday's game have a Hollywood history. Of course, Marshall had its ashes to glory story told in the 2006 film, "We Are Marshall." That same year, "Glory Road," which chronicled Texas Western's (now UTEP) run to the 1966 men's basketball championship, was released in theaters.
HERD POINTS: Freshman quarterback A.J. Graham didn't dress, but was on the sideline minus the protective boot that had been on his right ankle. ... Katie Fowler and Josh Sime won Mr. and Ms. Marshall. ... The win snapped a two-game Homecoming losing streak for Marshall. The Herd lost to UCF in 2008 and East Carolina last year. MU is now 57-44-8 all-time on Homecoming.
Andrew Ramspacher is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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