BOGACZYK: Herd Bounces Back, but Field Goals Go Wide at Middle
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 7, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The agony of defeat that hung over Marshall’s postgame exit from Floyd Stadium here seemed to be mostly about the agony of the feet.
It took three overtimes, but the Herd’s seven-game football winning streak disappeared at Middle Tennessee on a cloudy Saturday. Marshall missed a school-record five field goals by two place-kickers as the major contributing factor in a 27-24 Conference USA loss.
However, the Herd (8-2, 5-1) was behind more than the eight-ball as afternoon turned to evening. Marshall’s usually taut defense was too giving – except on third downs – and Coach Doc Holliday’s team had little semblance of a running game until catch-up time in the fourth quarter.
After trailing 17-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Herd stayed the course and by running 29 plays in the period for 173 yards, managed to forge a 17-17 tie when quarterback Chase Litton capped a 62-yard drive and found tight end Ryan Yurachek for a 15-yard scoring pass with 1:06 left in regulation.
“We had a chance to win the game,” Holliday said, “but we didn’t do it.”
The Blue Raiders (4-5, 3-2) went three-and-out and Marshall got the ball back, with Litton hitting Davonte Allen for 21 yards on first down, to the Middle 32. Two plays later, Litton scrambled left for 2 yards, to the MT 30 and was blasted several yards out of bounds by Middle cornerback Jeremy Cutrer. A 15-yard, late-hit penalty set up the Herd for a 32-yard Nick Smith field goal attempt … which hooked wide left.
For Smith, who had made his first 12 attempts after winning the kicking job in August camp, that was his third wide one in four tries … and his last, as Holliday switched to kickoff man Amoreto Curraj for the first place-kicks of the redshirt sophomore’s career.
It was far from over.
The Herd answered a MT touchdown in the first OT when – only after a long replay observation -- officials ruled that Davonte Allen had been forced out of bounds on his pass route and had scored on a 19-yard reception from Litton.
Curraj booted the tying PAT, but then missed wide left from 38 yards to start the second overtime. Middle’s Tony Clark then went wide left from 31 on a third-and-9 try.
The Blue Raiders’ possession began the third OT, and this time Clark hit from 46 yards for a 27-24 lead. The Herd got it to fourth-and-1 at the Middle 16 when Yurachek was flagged for a false start. At that point, with it fourth-and-6 at the Middle 21, Holliday decided on another field goal try.
Curraj’s 39 yarder didn’t get much height and was blocked by Cutrer – the same corner who put the Herd in position at the end of regulation following his late hit on Litton.
The Herd’s five missed field goals topped the previous school mark of three, tied many times. The NCAA major college record is seven misses in a game, by LSU against Florida in 1972.
The loss left Marshall trailing Western Kentucky (8-2, 6-0) in the C-USA East Division. The Herd entertains FIU (5-5, 3-3) at Edwards Stadium on Saturday, then six days later goes to WKU for a de-facto division title date – because head-to-head is the first tiebreaker.
WKU is off this coming Saturday, then plays FIU in Miami on Nov. 21 – Marshall’s open date after 11 straight weeks of games.
“The effort, the fight, that wasn’t an issue at all,” Holliday said. “We’ve got to execute better. We had an opportunity there on fourth down (in the third OT) and we jumped offside (false start). We didn’t get it done.
“We’ve got to go back … We can’t let one loss beat you twice. We’ve got to go back get ready to play on the anniversary of the (Nov. 14, 1970 plane) crash next Saturday. Our goal, our dreams are still out there. We find a way to win next week, we’re still playing at Western (Kentucky) the next week for the championship.
“We’ve got to put this one behind us. It’s hard but we’ve got to do that and move on.”
Middle’s offense, guided by redshirt freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill, troubled the Herd, which had already given up 500 yards by early in the fourth quarter. Other than the 738 yards rung up by WKU in its wild 67-66 OT win at Marshall last season, Middle’s 554 yards were the most the Herd had allowed since giving up 585 in its 51-49 defeat here two years ago.
The Herd climbed back, however, with 9:26 of possession time in the fourth quarter once its defense had figured out the Blue Raiders’ attack. Marshall hadn’t been down by 10 points since it trailed 19-7 in the third quarter in its Sept. 26 game at Kent State, one that eventually went two overtimes and Marshall won 36-29.
“Yeah,” Yurachek said when asked if he was surprised – considering the Herd’s struggles at times – that it was in position to win the game at the end of regulation. “I think you go back to the resiliency of our football team, you know?
“The defense kept us in the game and the offense made a couple of plays at the end and obviously we didn’t make a couple of kicks, but it’s not about the kicks. It’s not just about anyone thing that happened. It’s about the whole game.
“For whatever reason we were clicking on offense, but then we couldn’t get the ball past the 35, couldn’t get it any farther. We kept having penalties and other things pushed us back.”
Marshall’s only turnover was an interception of Litton in the second quarter. Again, Marshall didn’t lose a fumble – and hasn’t lost one since running back Tony Pittman turned it over 5:20 into an Oct. 3 victory over Old Dominion.
That’s more than five games without a lost fumble, or more than 23 quarters. And by the finish, thanks to its big fourth quarter, the Herd had piled up 515 yards on 104 plays – tying the double-OT GMAC Bowl in 2001 for the third-most Herd snaps in any game.
Lost in the roller coaster finish, too, was a first in Holliday’s six seasons as the Herd coach. When running back Hyleck Foster took a handoff and launched a 30-yard halfback pass to wideout Justin Hunt at 5:50 of the first quarter, it was the first running back pass attempt and completion by Marshall in the Holliday era (2010-2015).
The last running back pass attempt was on Sept. 26, 2009, by Darius Marshall – a 27-yard completion to freshman wide receiver Aaron Dobson on the second play of the third quarter in a 27-16 win over Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. Darius Marshall also ran for 203 yards and three TDs that day.
Later in the game, the Herd tried a tight end throw by Emanuel Byrd, who earlier had caught his first career TD pass. It was tipped into a near Middle interception … not that any of that early razzle-dazzle made the Herd feel any better.
“End of the day, not one person won or lost that football game,” Holliday said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to win that football game, and we didn’t do that. There’s not one play that determined the outcome of that game.
“You’ve got to find a way to score. When you win, you win as a team, and when you lose, you lose as a team.”
Maybe Litton put it best, and succinctly.
“You’ve got to finish,” the true freshman QB said after his first loss in the role after seven wins, “and we didn’t.”
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: It was the third three-OT game in Herd history. Marshall downed Western Carolina, 27-24, in 1991, and lost at Virginia Tech, 29-21 in 2013 … Marshall lost defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel and offensive tackle Sandley Jean-Felix to injuries during the overtime periods. Both were helped off the field … Until Smith had his first career FG miss last week, his 12 straight makes was part of a run of 19 consecutive field goals by the Herd, dating back to Justin Haig last season. Now, after 19 in a row, Marshall has missed seven of its last nine … Allen’s 112 reception yards move him to 1,487 career yards, putting the senior 23rd on MU’s all-time list … New C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod attended the game at Floyd Stadium … In two losses at Floyd Stadium (2013 and ’15), Marshall has allowed 1,139 yards to the Blue Raiders … The five FG misses tied the C-USA record set by UAB in a Sept. 25, 2010 loss at Tennessee. The Blazers made two of seven that day.