"Our kids played hard. This is a hard one to swallow," said Marshall coach Mark Snyder afterwards.
UCF won for the first time in Huntington, and the second time in a row after losing the first three games to the Herd, with a 23-22 victory over Marshall. MU falls to 1-4 for the first time since 1983 with the loss and will open C-USA play at 0-1 for the second consecutive year. UCF improves to 2-3 and evens its conference record at 1-1 and is now tied with Southern Miss and East Carolina for second in the East Division. UAB is 1-0 in the East.
Cody Slate put Marshall on the board with this 7-yard TD catch with 1:34 left in the first quarter.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall has also now lost three consecutive games at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, although the overall record at the stadium that opened in 1991 still is 106 wins against just 11 losses in its 16th season as the home of the Herd.
The Marshall offense rolled up 366 yards of offense and put a season-high 22 points (vs. Division I-A competition) on the board behind 181 yards on the ground by Ahmad Bradshaw. Bernard Morris passed for 136 yards on 14-of-22 passing. Morris found Cody Slate for a touchdown that gave Marshall an early 6-0 lead, with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
"I thought our offense got on track," MU coach Snyder said, then added, "I knew it was going to be a barn-burner."
Matthew McConaughey was the center of photographers'attention at the UCF game. McConaughey and director McG showed a short clip of the upcoming movie "We Are Marshall" at halftime.
At home for the first time since September 9, Marshall was hoping to beat the Golden Knights of UCF to open Conference USA play for 2006. The two teams had a September they would just as soon not remember, with both squads starting the season 1-3. But the Herd traveled to No. 4 West Virginia, No. 15 Tennessee and to 3-1 Kansas State of the Big XII, whose only loss is to a ranked Louisville team. Central Florida, on the other hand, has lost two-of-three at home since opening with a less than impressive win over I-AA Villanova. The Golden Knights were shut out at Florida then lost at home to rival UCF. The Knights also lost its C-USA opener last week, also at home, to Southern Miss, by a 19-14 margin.
Bernard Morris put a move on UCF defensive back Sha'reff Rashad in the third quarter.
A national television audience and a big crowd for the appearance of "We Are Marshall" director McG and star Matthew McConaughey turned out at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the game. Marshall was threatened early in the first quarter, but was able to stop UCF at the one-yard line when the Marshall defense kept running back Kevin Smith out of the end zone on back-to-back plays. The Herd took over at the one and drove 99 yards to take the lead in the game on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Bernard Morris to freshman tight end Cody Slate. Ian O'Connor mishandled the snap on the extra point and his pass attempt for two fell short.
UCF changed quarterbacks, benching starter Steven Moffett and inserting backup Kyle Israel. He drove the Knights 80 yards for a touchdown, taking it in the final two yards, and the Knights regained the lead 7-6 with 13:53 to play in the second quarter.
"It was a heck of a offensive game, but we put a lot of emphasis on defense around here," Snyder continued. "So, I'm not happy with whatever the [UCF] yardage was. Not happy."
Kicker Anthony Binswanger leaped high in the air after making the 50-yard field goal with 3:00 remaining that gave Marshall the 22-20 lead.
Anthony Binswanger connected on his second career field goal, this one from 40 yards away, and with 8:11 left in the half, Marshall was back in the lead 9-7. The Knights, however, answered with two Michael Torres field goals, both from 22 yards; the first with 3:46 left and the second with 27 seconds in the half. The Knights lead at the half, 13-9, before the crowd was treated to a sneak preview of a scene from "We Are Marshall."
McG and McConaughey both were on the field for the screening. Fans saw McConaughey as head coach Jack Lengyel of Marshall, with the 1971 "Young" Thundering Herd team, at the Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, where six members of the 1970 team were buried in unmarked graves when they couldn't be identified after the crash of November 14, 1970. "The funerals end today," Lengyel tells the team the day before the first home game against Xavier, which the Herd won on a last-second touchdown.
Ahmad Bradshaw eyed the end zone during his 32-yard TD run in the third quarter.
Marshall looked to put the game on ice with a 50-yard field goal from Anthony Binswanger with just 3:00 remaining in the game. Binswanger had been just 1-for-3 coming into the game, but connected on field goals of 40, 26 and the final kick that had 27,572 Herd fans thinking Marshall had pulled out a game they trailed 13-9 at the half.
But UCF QB Steven Moffett, who had been benched in the first half, calmly drove the Knights 76 yards on 11 plays to set up a final kick for Torres, who hit on 3-of-4 on the night after coming in just 1-for-4 in UCF's first four games.
"They made one more play than we did," Marshall coach Mark Snyder simply summed up.
Marshall now prepares for the first C-USA road trip of the year, taking on the SMU Mustangs at 3pm on October 14 in Dallas, Texas.