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Finally.

For the entire first half of the 2020 Conference USA championship game between UAB and Marshall University at Joan C. Edwards Stadium Friday night, the contest bore an eerie resemblance to a game nobody wanted to be reminded of again.

Ahem, Rice.

But, thank goodness, Marshall finally halted its scoring drought at seven quarters and after a first-half hiatus, actually turned the C-USA title game into a contest.

It was a very welcome relief.

For Marshall, at least. But UAB? Not so much.

The Blazers let a dominant first half slip through its fingers and Marshall waltzed right back into the game in the third quarter.

The big blow that ignited the Herd was a seven-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells — only his second completion of the game — to Artie Henry for a seven-yard touchdown pass.

That narrowed the score to an odd-looking, 9-7, in favor of the Blazers. But, more important, the ThunderingHerd actually was competing again.

Shades of the first seven games!

The catalyst was linebacker Eli Neal. He blasted into the UAB backfield, sacked Blazers’ quarterback Tyler Johnston for a five-yard loss to the 50-yard line, forced the QB to fumble and, then, even recovered the bobble.

Something positive finally had happened to the Herd. And that’s all it took. Suddenly, the Herd resembled the team that played the first seven games of the season.

Six plays later, Knox was throwing the touchdown pass to Henry. But give credit where it is due. It was Neal’s big play that turned the momentum.

The problem was Marshall wasn’t able to maintain its momentum.

Meanwhile, UAB was getting, first, a 42-yard field goal from place-kicker Matt Quinn with 14:55 remaining in the fourth quarter and, then, a career-long 48-yarder with 5:55 remaining to stake the Blazers to a 15-7 lead.

But, then, it happened.

Nobody saw it coming, which just made it more spectacular. Inexplicably, Wells, who at one point was 0-for-10 passing, unleashed a stunning 70-yard bomb to tight end Xavier Gaines for a touchdown with 5:38 remaining.

The two-point conversion try failed, but at least MU had narrowed the margin to only two points — a 15-13 deficit.

There was hope in Herdville.

The unfortunate part is it was short-lived. Only 1:26 later, UAB’s Johnston decided to see Wells’ 70-yard touchdown pass and raise him one.

Johnston launched a 71-yard touchdown heave to Trea Shropshire to boost the Blazers’ lead to 22-13.

That was the death blow to Marshall’s hopes of a Conference USA championship. The Herd simply couldn’t rally, just couldn’t launch a comeback to counter that touchdown.

Simply put, it was a knockout punch.

That bomb gave UAB a 22-13 victory over Marshall, lowering the Thundering Herd’s record in C-USA title games to 1-2. So, a season filled with hope, national rankings and more hope, ended with MU losing its final two games of the regular season.

That’s the bad news.

The good news?

Marshall didn’t quit. Take that positive and run with it. After one of the worst first halves in memory, the Herd easily could have bailed and said, “We’ll send you a post card from the bowl game.”

But MU didn’t do that.

Instead, the Herd fought and competed and refused to quit.

There was dignity in that. There was honor in that. There was respect in that.

Even after a bitter loss, that needs to be remembered.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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