Blazers hold off Herd
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Too little, too late for the Marshall University football team Saturday.
Marshall trimmed a 24-point deficit to seven points late, but the UAB Blazers (3-7, 2-4 Conference USA) got a strong effort by running back Darrin Reaves and took a 38-31 victory at Legion Field.
Reaves carried the football 32 carries for 184 yards and two scores, including the decisive touchdown with less than three minutes to go.
"We dug too deep of a hole to try and get back in it," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "I thought our kids came out in the second half and did some good things, but you have to give UAB credit."
After looking dismal offensively for much of the contest, Marshall (4-6, 3-3) cut the UAB lead to a lone score at 31-24 following a 38-yard field goal by Justin Haig with 7:18 left.
However, the Thundering Herd defense could not stop Reaves as the Blazers churned out a time-consuming drive to walk out of Legion Field with the win.
Reaves capped his performance with a 17-yard touchdown with 2:50 remaining that pushed the lead back to two scores.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato hit Gator Hoskins on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 left to trim the lead back to one score, but the Herd failed in its on-side kick attempt and UAB escaped with the win.
Cato was 25 of 34 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
UAB's defense dropped eight in coverage and forced the Herd rushing attack to beat them. Marshall was unable to do so, finishing with 121 yards on 41 carries.
"We didn't think that's what they were going to do, so it was an adjustment," Marshall offensive lineman Jordan Jeffries said. "It took us longer than it should have to adjust to that."
Marshall trailed by 17 late in the third quarter but used an interception by Jermaine Holmes to jumpstart a comeback attempt. The ensuing drive culminated with a 7-yard touchdown run by Kevin Grooms which cut the lead to 31-21 with 14:40 left in the game. Grooms finished with 75 yards to lead the Herd's rushing attack.
UAB drove down the field behind Reaves on the next possession, but the Herd got a needed stop when Brandon Sparrow blocked a 52-yard field goal attempt and Dominick LeGrande returned the kick to the UAB 29 to set up Haig's field goal.
The Blazers led 24-7 at the half and increased the lead to 31-7 following a 32-yard pass from Austin Brown to Nick Adams with 5:23 left in the third quarter. Brown finished 20 of 34 for 197 yards with two scores and three interceptions.
Marshall's defense forced four turnovers, but it was all for naught after a dismal first half in two of the game's phases.
UAB's large first-half lead came in part because of a Marshall offense that produced just 121 yards in 41 plays and a special teams unit that gave up huge returns in the kick and punt games.
Jackie Williams had a 79-yard punt return for a score and the Blazers later followed a punt block with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Patrick Hearn in the second quarter to forge the lead.
"Awful," Holliday said. "We didn't play well there. When you get a blocked punt and a punt returned for a touchdown, it's hard to win a game."
Reaves also had a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter which pushed UAB to an early advantage that it never looked back from.
Marshall has to win its two remaining games to become bowl eligible. The Herd is back at home for a noon, Saturday, clash with the Houston Cougars. The regular season ends Nov. 23 at East Carolina.