Despite again topping the 400 yard mark on offense, the Thundering Herd again allowed 470 yards on defense including 310 through the air for back-up starter Stephen Reaves for Southern Miss. Teamed with 152 yards on the ground by sophomore sensation Damion Fletcher, who scored three touchdowns including the clincher with 1:21 on the clock, USM wore down the Herd with a drive of 5:56 that Marshall had numerous chances to get a stop on third and long. "We needed a score," said Fletcher. "Game on the line. We played our hearts out on that final drive and that's what you have to do."
Darius Marshall scored from eight yards out late in the third quarter to pull Marshall within reach of Southern Miss at 26-17 in the 33-24 loss. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Linebacker Josh Johnson led the Herd defense with career-best 12 tackles, while fellow linebacker Maurice Kitchens added 10 stops. Tackle James Burkes, on the sub-varsity just a month ago before injuries moved him up to the varsity line, had a career-best eight tackles in the game. The Marshall defense totaled six tackles for loss, having only 22 in the first six games of the year. After pulling within two, the defense got a stop on USM, but the offense was also unable to move the ball for the Herd. Marty Biagi, put into the game to punt for Anthony Binswanger, nailed a punt of 51 yards that rolled dead at the Southern Miss nine-yard line.
But once again, the Herd gave up too many long passes on the final drive that started with 7:17 on the clock. Those passes included a 13-yard completion to Fletcher on second-and-nine, a 19-yard completion on third-and-eight to reciever Torris McGee and a first-of-the-season catch by backup fullback Sean Michaelson on third-and-six that moved the ball down the two when Aaron Johnson pulled Michaelson down by his mask. The key play of the drive, however, was a pass interference call on Kitchens on third-and-seven that kept the final drive alive. "I thought the whole momentum of the game changed on that pass interference call," said MU head coach Mark Snyder. "(it) changed the whole complexion of the game. That was third down...If we get a stop there, we get all the (momentum) offensively." Fletcher scored from two-yards away to put the game away.
Darius Passmore hauled in this 47-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bernard Morris to pull Marshall within two, at 26-24, with 9:59 left in the game. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd once again came up with no turnovers, while the offense gave it up four times in the game. Kitchens jarred the ball loose early in the third quarter, but it appeared Michaelson got to the bottom of the scrum for the ball and took it away from C.J. Spillman, who finished the night with eight tackles. MU quarterback Bernard Morris passed for 309 yards, but had three interceptions in the game. With the Herd in the hole once again to start a game, he hit Cody Slate for a touchdown that cut the Southern Miss halftime lead from 20-3, on a Binswanger season-long 39-yard field goal, to 20-10 when the tight end caught the ball at the four-yard line and ran over a defender to reach out and over the goal line. Morris also threw a perfect 47-yard strike to Darius Passmore that resulted in a score that pulled the Herd within two points with 9:59 to play. Passmore ended the game with five catches for 105 yards, while Slate caught four for 78 yards. "They took their shots," said Jeff Bower, head coach of Southern Miss after the game. "This is a tough place to play."
Defensive end John Jacobs pressured Southern Miss QB Steven Reaves in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
For the Golden Eagles (4-3, 3-1 C-USA), they now are tied with East Carolina for the East Division lead at 3-1 each and has the tie-breaker by virtue of beating the Pirates 28-21 earlier this year. Fletcher had a career-long touchdown when he put the Eagles on the board with a 36-yard rush just a minute and one-half into the game, although Byron Tinker blocked the extra-point to keep the score 6-0. Fletcher added a two-yard touchdown at the end of the first quarter and USM led 13-0. Marshall's first turnover of the game came in the second quarter, when a Morris pass to the end zone was tipped by Gerald McRath into the arms of Justin Wilson in the end zone. Willis had a nifty run to move the ball out to the 15-yard line. Southern Miss went for the throat as Reaves went for a school-record 85-yard scoring pass to Torris Magee that made the game 20-0 with 13:21 left in the second quarter. "They made a couple of more plays than we did," said Snyder.
To start the second half, Justin Estes, a freshman from Marietta, Ohio, hit two field goals to extend the Southern Miss lead to 26-10. Back came the Herd, with a eight yard touchdown run by Darius Marshall to pull the Herd withing 26-17 near the end of the third quarter. Passmore's 47-yard catch for a score had the Herd within two, but that's as close as Marshall would get, having the ball only 4:06 of the quarter, and just two of those minutes in the final ten of the game.
Marshall linebacker Ian Hoskins celebrated a stop of Southern Miss running back Damion Fletcher in the second half. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
With the loss, Marshall is 0-7 for the first time since the Herd went 0-10 in 1967, and has now lost eight games in a row for the first time since 1979. Marshall is 0-3 in league play for the first time since 1982 in the Southern Conference. The Herd has now lost three home games for the second time in three seasons, with nine of 14 losses at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium coming since 2003. Marshall will suffer its third consecutive losing season for the first time since 1983. Next weekend, it will be Homecoming No. 106 for the Herd when Rice comes in for a first-ever meeting on Saturday at 4:30 p.m., a game televised on CSTV. Marshall has won 14 consecutive homecoming games, with the last loss to Appalachian State, 37-34, in the 1992 season. The Herd is 54-43-8 all-time at homecoming and the 14-game win streak is the best in school history.