Herd outlasts Owls
HOUSTON -- Kevin Grooms scored four touchdowns, including the game-winning 5-yard score, to give Marshall a wild 54-51 double-overtime victory over Rice in the Conference USA football opener for both teams Saturday at Rice Stadium.
Marshall (2-2, 1-0) finally won in the Lone Star State after losing on all eight of its previous visits.
"They found a way to win," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "I'm proud of the way they fought. They came out there and never got their heads down and played extremely hard and offensively, some of those young kids stepped up and made some plays."
After Marshall got a stop in the second overtime that forced Rice to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Chris Boswell, the Thundering Herd needed two plays to win the game.
Remi Watson busted around the left side for a 20-yard gain before Grooms' game-winning dive through the middle of the field set off a celebration.
Holliday was all smiles after watching the Herd rushing attack do a 180-degree turn from last week.
After running backs amassed just 27 yards on 16 carries in last week's loss to Ohio, the Herd ripped off 334 yards on 50 carries to balance the attack.
Running back Steward Butler led with 166 yards on 18 carries and a score while Grooms' last carry also put him over the century mark with 103 yards.
It was the first time Marshall had two running backs eclipse 100 yards since Nov. 21, 2009, when Martin Ward and Terrell Edwards-Maye did it against SMU.
"Coach told us this week that we haven't run the ball well and this is where we're going to start," Marshall offensive lineman Chris Jasperse said. "He said, 'I've got a good feeling.'"
In addition to the big run in the second overtime, Watson also finished with 84 yards on 14 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown that gave the Herd a 48-41 lead before Rice backup quarterback Driphus Jackson knotted the game with his 3-yard run after coming in for Taylor McHargue, who was injured late.
McHargue was injured in the final minute of regulation as he dove and landed short of the end zone while trying to put Rice ahead after the Owls trailed by 10 with 4:10 left.
With Rice (1-3, 0-1) trailing 41-31, the Owls' junior quarterback made plays with his feet. It appeared Marshall had gotten to him on a second down rush as Alex Bazzie knocked the ball loose, but McHargue regained control and raced 43 yards to the end zone to cut the deficit to a field goal.
After the Owls forced a rare three-and-out in the game, McHargue got loose once again and appeared to be heading to the end zone, but his dive came up a yard short and he injured his shoulder on the play. The injury brought a premature end to a game he finished with 467 all-purpose yards -- 314 passing, 153 rushing -- while accounting for four touchdowns.
McHargue's injury forced Jackson into the contest, and a failed run was followed by a false start and a loss by Jackson that forced the Owls into a game-tying 23-yard field goal by Boswell.
"We feel we should have won the game right there," Rice coach David Bailiff said. "We had first-and-goal on the 1-yard line and couldn't manage to punch it in."
In all, the wild contest featured 1,240 yards on 182 plays without either team committing a turnover.
With neither team stopping the other from scoring, it appeared Marshall had momentum after limiting Rice to a field goal on a 13-play, 55-yard drive early in the fourth quarter.
After exchanging possessions, the Herd followed that with a 15-play, 73-yard drive capped by Watson's 2-yard plunge that put the team up 10 following a botched extra point that loomed large late.
While the game featured several twists and turns, it also featured a balanced attack Marshall had been longing for.
Marshall came into the game with just 376 yards rushing total in its first three games, but finished with near that much in this contest alone.
After getting one carry between them a week ago, Grooms and Butler became mainstays in the backfield, thanks in part to a position switch involving starting running back Travon Van moving to cornerback.
The two freshmen responded by logging the first four touchdowns of the game.
"I knew it would make a big difference if we did play that much, but I didn't think it would change that much," Butler said.
Grooms opened the scoring with a 17-yard run and Butler followed with a 57-yard jaunt as Marshall took a 14-7 lead at the end of one quarter.
The Herd lead ballooned to 21-7 when quarterback Rakeem Cato found Grooms on a 5-yard pass out of the backfield midway through the second quarter.
McHargue set the stage for the electric affair when he found Donte Moore on a 43-yard bomb before halftime then tied the game 21-21 on a 31-yard pass to Sam McGuffie, who finished with four catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the strong rushing presence, Cato continued to put up solid numbers, finishing 28 of 39 passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Cato threw just eight passes in the fourth quarter and zero in the overtime sessions as the Herd pounded the ball.
"They couldn't stop the run all night, so I told Coach (offensive coordinator Bill) Legg forget about the pass plays. Leave me out the game," Cato said. "I'll just be a decoy or whatever I have to, hand the ball off if I have to. He wanted to call a few more pass plays, but I told him no, just keep running the ball."
In the end, Cato wasn't worried about any numbers in statistics.
He was worried about the number one.
That means 1-0 in Conference USA play and win No. 1 in Texas.
Marshall returns to action Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., taking on Big Ten member Purdue (2-1) in a 3:15 p.m. contest that will be televised by the Big Ten Network. The Boilermakers had Saturday off.