"It feels really good to get a win, " Marshall coach Mark Snyder led off his post-game press conference. "It's a win. We'll take it."
The first three quarters were all but forgettable for Marshall fans. SMU led the game 10-0 courtesy of a Reynaldo Pellerin 7-yard TD catch to end the first half, and a Chris McMurtray 34-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Marshall's C.J. Spillman broke up this SMU pass during the first half of the game.
Marshall did not get on the scoreboard until 6:44 left in the fourth quarter when kicker Ian O'Connor connected on a 24-yard field goal. O'Connor had earlier missed from 43 and 26 yards.
"That's got to get corrected. We have to score when we get in the red zone," said MU's Snyder of the missed scoring attempts.
"But…we knew once we got some points on the board that we'd start rolling," countered Marshall receiver Hiram Moore.
But that was all forgotten late in the fourth quarter. Marshall quarterback Bernie Morris —who played his first complete game after being pulled in last week's loss at UCF — engineered a 59-yard, nine-play drive in the final minutes that ended with Morris running from four yards out for the game-tying touchdown.
The game-tying drive was set up by the Marshall defense. Floyd Wright sacked SMU quarterback Jerad Romo for a loss of 6 yards on the Mustangs' drive after O'Connor's field goal, enabling the Marshall offense to get the ball back with 4:08 left.
Marshall's Juan Underwood sacked SMU quarterback Jerad Romo.
"They [Marshall defense] kept them out of the end zone, and we had to go out and play hard on offense,"MU quarterback Bernie Morris said afterward.
After Morris's game-tying score, Marshall had one last chance to score but the drive ended with a Marty Biagi punt. SMU downed the ball on the two final play of regulation to go to overtime.
Before Morris could provide the game-winning heroics, the Marshall defense had to stop SMU one last time in overtime. And, they did just that. The Mustangs could only gain two yards on their drive to start the overtime period, and settled for a 40-yard McMurtray field goal to get the 13-10 lead.
"I was screaming on the sideline that a field goal meant nothing; we're scoring a touchdown," said MU receiver Hiram Moore of the Mustangs' score in overtime.
Enter Bernie Morris.
On first and ten, Morris rushed up the middle for a loss of two yards. He threw an incomplete pass on second down intended for Marcus Fitzgerald. In dramatic fashion, Morris took the next two plays for himself, rushing for 12 yards for the first down at the SMU 15 yard line.
"I just had to tuck it and see what I could get out of it," Morris said.
In a designed play, Morris took the snap on first down at the 15 yard line, waited for lanes to open up, and scrambled into the end zone —diving the final two yards — to give Marshall the dramatic 16-13 win over SMU and The Herd's first Conference-USA win.
"It was a called quarterback draw," Morris described the game-winning play. "I gave a dummy signal to get them [SMU defense] off a little bit, and it worked. "
Marshall quarterback Bernie Morris dived over SMU's Joe Sturdivant for the game-winning touchdown.
It was one of those games where the numbers really didn't tell the story. Marshall's defense held SMU to only 7 first downs the entire game, yet SMU had the ball for only 26 minutes (compared to Marshall's 33+ minutes). Marshall QB Bernie Morris was 34-for-60 and 314 yards through the air while rushing for 63 yards as well.
"The defense played outstanding today," Snyder added. "That unit is starting to really come together."
Marshall now has a 5-0 record in overtime games, a perfect 4-0 in overtime games at home. The last time Marshall played an overtime game was in the 2001 GMAC Bowl, which MU won 63-61. That game featured late-game dramatics by another quarterback, Byron Leftwich.
Marshall receiver Hiram Moore is trailed by SMU's Rolando Humphrey on one of Moore's 8 catches for 107 yards.
Marshall coach Mark Snyder pointed out that, unlike in the previous two losses (Kansas State and UCF), Marshall didn't make the big mistakes —namely turnovers.
"I'm so proud of the guys because we learned a lesson today: we didn't turn the ball over, and we got a win," Mark Snyder continued. "It's going to be a great teaching tool for us coaches."
SMU (1-4 overall, 0-2 CUSA) was held to just 191 yards offense by the Marshall defense, with Romo throwing for 151 of those yards. 63 of those yards came via a play late in the third quarter where a whistle was blown in the crowd, and Marshall defender Chris Hawkins eased up thinking the play was dead. SMU receiver Bobby Chase ran 63 yards after the catch before being knocked out of bounds.
"We all heard a whistle on the field," said MU coach Mark Snyder. "The refs stopped, we all stopped. The refs had no explanation for me. It's just a shame that it happened here in our stadium."
Marshall's 314 receiving yards were spread around 8 different receivers, with Hiram Moore (8 catches, 107 yards) getting the bulk, and Marcus Fitzgerald (8 for 69 yards) close behind.
In the end, Marshall (2-2 overall, 1-1 CUSA) got precisely the shot-in-the-arm it needed after two disappointing losses. The Herd also discovered that Bernie Morris is the quarterback of choice for 2005. Morris pointed out that this game did more for his maturity as a player than any of the previous three games.
"I think I made a big step towards my future," Bernie Morris summed up.
Marshall now prepares for a short road trip to face Virginia Tech next Saturday at noon at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia.