Dec. 6, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The last time Marshall played a football game at Rice, Alex Bazzie probably saved the game for the Thundering Herd.
It was a big play by the one-time walk-on, pass-rushing defensive end, but this time around in the same place, the stakes are far bigger.
“This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Bazzie said earlier this week. “In high school (in Silver Spring, Md.), the most we had was a six-win season, never touched playoffs.
“I’ve never played in the month of December for a playoff or championship. This is a big deal, a huge deal.”
It’s the Conference USA Championship Game – a first for the matching 9-3 Herd and the Owls – on Saturday at noon in Houston. Marshall will be seeking its 13th conference crown in history, and a title in a fifth conference (WVIAC, Buckeye, Southern, Mid-American).
It’s also a return to Rice Stadium, the scene of one of the more memorable plays a then-porous Marshall defense made last season, on Sept. 22.
There was about one minute on the clock, fourth quarter, with Marshall leading 41-38, and the Owls had driven from their own 21 for a first down at the Herd 49, trying to win the game. Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue did what he had been doing all afternoon to Marshall – getting out of the pocket, gaining ground with his legs.
Bazzie – uncharacteristically – missed a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and McHargue scrambled free and headed toward the left sideline. He was finally corralled 47 yards later – at the Herd 2 … by a chasing Bazzie.
After two 1-yard rushes by wildcat QB Turner Petersen – McHargue was injured on the play -- sandwiched a false start penalty, Rice had to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal, sending the game into overtime … and Marshall eventually won, 54-51, in double OT.
In recalling the play, Bazzie referenced something similar that occurred seven years before he was bone – but a play in his old nation’s capital-bordering neighborhood that is rerun on TV at times, and one available on YouTube whenever he wants to watch it.
“It was ridiculous,” the 6-foot-1, 228-pound Bazzie said of his running down the 6-2, 220-pound McHargue. “He’s such a great athlete. I missed the tackle and you see him running all around the field, and I can see the play is not over, and I’m running trying to catch up to him.
“I remember seeing a Dallas player chased down, a guy about to score, a similar situation. The guy chasing never gave up, chased him down all the way to the 1 maybe.”
The play Bazzie recalled occurred 30 years ago this season, in the “Monday Night Football” opener at RFK Stadium. It involved two future Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Redskins rookie cornerback Darrell Green – in his NFL debut – ran down Cowboys star Tony Dorsett after an 83-yard gain. Green made the tackle at the Washington 6 in a ‘Skins’ victory.
“That play kind of reminds me of that,” Bazzie said. “I watched that play before plenty of times, watched that straining not to give up. So, when I see McHargue running, man, this guy’s not down, and I missed him.
“And to me, it’s like, ‘This run is really long,’ but you’re running and running, and you know he’s getting tired as well. He’s running around through the defense and plenty of guys couldn’t get him down, so I’m running, and he’s going down the sideline and he kind of sees me in the periphery of his eyes.
“He was trying to dive for the end zone and forgets that he’s about 10 yards away, rather than 5 or 3, and he kind of fell short. That strain and hustle, that kind of helped carry us into overtime.
“He could have ended the game right there. You can’t have any quit in you, you’ve got to finish. It goes into double overtime, a crazy game, but we came out with the win.
“And I know that play is in the back of his head and that’s something he’s going to want to bounce back from this year.”
Bazzie has played with that kind of relentlessness throughout his career with the Herd.
As for McHargue, he had a career-best 153 rushing yards in that game last season, the third highest ground total by a Marshall opposing quarterback. The top two rushing QB games against the Herd belong to Josh Cribbs of Kent State (159 in 2001 and 199 in 2002).
McHargue also threw for his career high that day, 314 yards.
Bazzie doesn’t expect anything different from the Rice senior QB in Saturday’s title game.
“The biggest thing is his ability outside the pocket,” Bazzie said. “He’s a big strong, physical guy. I don’t think he gets the recognition for how strong he is, either. He’s hard to bring down, very solid. With his throwing ability and also his ability to run, you’ve got to contain him, keep him in pocket or else he can do real damage to your defense.
“And every time your defense goes against a dual threat quarterback and you give them that freedom to use both abilities, run or pass, they can hurt you bad … every given time. So, we have to limit him and keep him in the pocket, keep him one-dimensional.”
Bazzie said that while he expects the Owls and their quarterback to come at the Herd with power as they did last season, the other team on the field is the one that’s changed – and not just thanks to a retooled, physical defense under first-year Herd coordinator Chuck Heater.
The East Division-clinching rout of a nine-win East Carolina team was a statement game, Bazzie said, as was a mid-November win at Tulsa, when the Herd overcame four lost fumbles and the Golden Hurricane.
“It showed we want to win badly,” Bazzie said. “I think (the win over ECU) showed we’re hungry for victory around here. I don’t think that’s something that we’ve experienced in these years I’ve been here. It’s just always been fighting just to get to a bowl game, a ‘Let’s just get there.’
“Instead, now, it’s, ‘Let’s win every game; let’s not just try to aim for six wins.’ And that’s what that ECU win kind of showed our fans and people everywhere, that we are hungry to win, not only to win, but have our opponents leaving the stadium and knowing they couldn’t hang with us.
“East Carolina was a really athletic team, a great offense, (quarterback Shane) Carden. It showed a lot of people we really want to win around here. Like I said, it’s different now. We’re not just out here trying to fight to get to six wins, we want to win every game on the schedule, and I think it’s that fight that has carried us this far.”
Bazzie said the emotional overflow among Herd supporters about the C-USA Championship Game not heading to Joan C. Edwards Stadium isn’t something that embroiled Herd players.
“Look, it’s a championship game, and if you can’t get excited to play it wherever … ” Bazzie said. “It would have been lovely to have it here at ‘The Joan,’.
“But like I said, all we wanted was a championship bid. We’re in here, you can’t complain about where it’s played. Beggars can’t be choosers.
“It’s been a long time since something like this (2002 MAC championship) was there for Marshall. When Coach (Doc) Holliday asked the team to raise hands if you’ve won a championship, I was surprised at how few of us could raise them.
“I was really surprised. There weren’t many, and coach has a lot of tremendous athletes from good programs coming here. They recruit really well. I would have thought because of that, more would have won a championship.
“The more we prepare, the better we prepare, when he asks that question again, then maybe all of us can raise our hands. That would be a great feeling.”
Bazzie knows he has plenty of help chasing a 2013 C-USA championship. That September 2012 chase of McHargue? It was only a solo tackle.