Herd wins for Homecoming
HUNTINGTON — If UTSA’s name is Roadrunners, Marshall University’s defense was the “Road Blockers” Saturday afternoon.
Marshall limited UTSA to its lowest point and total offensive output of the season while intercepting quarterback Eric Soza three times en route to a 34-10 win over the Roadrunners in front of 28,837 fans for Homecoming 2013 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“Anytime you have a Homecoming game and everyone coming back, it’s always good to see all the fans, former players and alumni walking out of the stadium with a good taste in their mouths,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
Marshall’s defense controlled the game from the onset, intercepting Soza on each of the Roadrunners’ first two possessions to jump out to a 17-0 lead at the end of one quarter.
That lead ballooned to 24-0 early in the second following a Steward Butler 1-yard touchdown run before a Marshall turnover led to UTSA’s lone points of the first half — a 24-yard field goal by Sean Ianno.
After a scoreless third quarter, UTSA got its lone touchdown with 9:44 left in the fourth period when Soza went off the left side for a 1-yard score. The Thundering Herd answered with its most time-consuming drive of the season — an 11-play, 74-yard drive that took 5:58 off the game clock and set the final score when Rakeem Cato found Demetrius Evans on a 4-yard touchdown pass.
“I’ve said at times, I don’t think we are statistically better than last year, but we can be a better offense,” Holliday said. “We slowed down in the second half and worked some clock. We ran the ball and were able to pick up first downs and stick that last touchdown in, which was good to see.”
While the offense sustained that critical drive, this day was all about the defense.
Marshall, now 3-2 for the season and off to a 1-0 start in Conference USA, limited UTSA to just 254 yards of total offense – 180 yards below its season average and 125 yards less than its previous low, which was 379 yards against Arizona. The 10 points were also a season-low.
Part of the strength of Marshall’s defense was getting to third down when the Herd unloaded what defensive coordinator Chuck Heater called “Radar” – an alignment where the Herd had one down lineman and the other members of the first two levels floating around to create confusion for UTSA’s offense.
The plan worked to perfection as UTSA converted just 4 of 14 third-down opportunities after coming in with a conversion percentage of 43.8.
“A lot of things went wrong,” UTSA coach Larry Coker said. “We didn’t play our best, for one, and the third down was a disaster for us. We had so many third downs lost or mis-converted.”
The tone was dictated early as Marshall’s intercepted Soza on the Roadrunners’ third play from scrimmage when Evan McKelvey picked off a pass that was deflected by Alex Bazzie. The turnover led to a 33-yard field goal by Justin Haig.
UTSA’s next series ended in similar fashion when Gary Thompson batted Soza’s short pass high into the air. Ra’Shawde Myers flew in from the opposite defensive end spot and dove for the interception.
Six plays later, Devon Johnson caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cato to push the Herd out to a two-score lead. Cato finished the day 22 of 32 passing for 279 yards and two scores.
The Herd kept on the gas pedal with the defense forcing stops and the offense producing points as Essray Taliaferro’s 4-yard run capped an 89-yard drive and gave the Herd a 17-0 lead at the end of one quarter – its highest first-quarter total of the season.
It was more than enough for the defense as frustration built for Soza and the Roadrunners.
Soza finished the day 10-for-26 for 130 yards and three interceptions while only rushing for five yards on eight carries. He came into the contest averaging 292 yards of total offense per game.
UTSA (2-4, 1-1) played without leading receiver Kam Jones, who did not make the trip because of an injury. In addition to being the Roadrunners’ leading receiver, Jones also was a threat in the run game and as a kickoff returner.
With the win, Marshall moves to 59-45-8 in Homecoming games and has won 18 of the last 21.
The Herd hits the road for its next Conference USA game – a 5 p.m., Saturday, contest at Florida Atlantic, which defeated UAB on Saturday, 37-23.
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