For the Herd, winless on the road this season and just 2-16 in the past three seasons under Mark Snyder away from Huntington, they will return home for the final game of the year, as well as Senior Day, when UAB visits the Joan C. Edwards Stadium this Saturday. It will be the first time Marshall has played the final game at home in three years in C-USA when the Blazers, like Marshall at just 2-9 overall but only 1-6 in league play, visit next Saturday. It is the first final game at home since 2003. UAB fell to Memphis on Saturday, 25-9, a game that made the Tigers of Coach Tommy West bowl eligible.
"We finally had guys who made some plays in the second half," said Snyder after the game. "I said at halftime we were not making plays, but we came out and made some in the second half on offense. E.J. Wynn was making plays all over the place." Marshall trailed Houston 10-7 at halftime after finally scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of a game in 2007. Bernard Morris, who threw for 260 yards on 20-of-32 passing, found his roommate, Emmanuel Spann, down the middle for a 32-yard touchdown pass with :36 seconds left in the first quarter gave the Herd a 7-3 lead. Marshall led at the end of the first quarter for only the second time this season, and the second week in a row.
Houston opened the game with a 12-play drive that led to a T.J. Lawrence 32-yard field goal and an early lead at the 11:39 mark of the first quarter. Then UH answered the Marshall touchdown with a Anthony Alridge three-yard touchdown at the 5:17 mark of the second quarter. Marshall had two scoring chances, but Anthony Binswanger had his first misses since the New Hampshire game with wide right efforts from 47 yards and 42 yards. "We have got to quit going backwards when we get in the red-zone," said Snyder at halftime. "We keep asking Bins to kick 40-plus yard field goals into the wind because we're not making plays."
Houston opened the third quarter with another Lawrence field goal, this one from 24 yards away, to go up 13-7 just 4:15 into the third quarter. On its next drive, UH put together an 11-play, 75-yard drive with quarterback Case Keenum finding Alridge for a 22-yard touchdown when the Herd blitzed and left the middle of the field wide open. Alridge carried 25 times for 103 yards and one rushing touchdown, and caught five passes for 46 more yards and the score.
The Herd answered that drive with an eight-play, 80-yard drive of its own. With runs of 11, 14 and one yards by Darius Marshall, nine and two yards by Chubb Small, seven yards by Morris, plus a quick pass to E.J. Wynn (who had his second strong game at receiver with six catches for 66 yards), the Herd was poised at the 13-yard line. Small took the ball in from there and the Cougars were up by just six, 20-14.
The play of the game came on Houston's next series. Byron Tinker his Keenum and knocked the ball to the ground, which Ryland Wilson jumped on for what would have been his second turnover of the day. He had an interception in the first half to set up the Spann touchdown and also caused a fumble recovered by C.J. Spillman. But the review of the play, which took nearly 15 minutes from start to finish, overturned the call by saying Keenum's arm was going forward and the fumble was just an incomplete pass. Spillman once again led the Herd on defense, making 16 tackles, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble.
Houston would use the reversal of fortune to drive for another touchdown, on a one-yard run by Keenum, to go up 28-14, but back came the Herd. After a drive by Marshall died at mid-field following the UH score, the Herd defense came up with another big stop, forcing Houston into one of its few three-and-outs. The punt hit Spann in the facemask, but he recovered for about a ten-yard gain and MU had a first down at the Houston 48. It only took Morris five plays and one minute to drive the Herd to a touchdown that had to be seen to be believed. D.Marshall, who led Marshall with 12 carries for 66 yards, slammed into the line at the two-yard line and appeared stopped until right tackle Daniel Baldridge picked him up and appeared to carry Marshall into the end zone to cut the lead to 28-21 with just over five minutes to play.
But Houston went to an "old school" play next, when on second and eight at the 37, Keenum hit a "pop" pass to tight end Mark Hafner, who out-ran Aaron Johnson and J.J. Johnson on a 65-yard touchdown pass to put Houston up by two touchdowns again, 35-21. "They made a little trick play with their tight end," said Snyder. "My hats off to Art Briles and his offense." Hafner caught six passes for 128 yards and the touchdown.
Morris and the Herd would not go down without a fight. He took the ball at the MU 30-yard line and hit Wynn for 11 yards. Then he found Courtney Edmonson for 15 more, followed by Kelvin Turner catching a pass for eight more yards and getting out of bounds. Morris then hooked up once again with his roomie, Spann, on a beautiful 36 yard, one-handed catch that moved the Herd down to the two. Turner punched the ball in on two one-yard runs and the Herd was within seven with 1:44 to play. Morris passed for 260 yards on 20-of-32 passes and no interceptions, but was sacked three times.
But Binswanger kicked the ball out of bounds on the on-sides kick try, which saw the entire left side of the Herd kickoff coverage team offsides when the kicker started to kick left, stopped and then kicked right. Alridge would gain a first down and Houston ran out the clock for a win that, at least temporarily, puts them in front of Tulsa in the West.
Now the Cougars must sit and wait a week to see if they will win the West Division of C-USA. Houston is one-half game in front of Tulsa, 5-2 in league play, and will have to have cross-town rival Rice knock off the Golden Hurricane for Houston to win the division after Tulsa beat UH last week, 56-7, to earn the head-to-head tie-breaker.
"I felt like we were in the game until the end," said Snyder. "We've got to just keep on doing what we are doing and get ready for UAB." There were some players that played well, and freshman tackle Michael Janac might be at the top of the list. In only his second start at tackle, Janan recorded 11 tackles and one tackle for loss in the game. Also in double-digit tackles were D.J. Wingate, also in his second start, with 10 tackles and Maurice Kitchens also had 10 stops.
"It will be an emotional week for our seniors," said Snyder of the final week of practice and the introduction of his senior class before the UAB game. Those seniors include Marcus Fitzgerald, Shawn Lauzon, Brian Shope, Bernard Morris, Phillip Gamble, Kyle Echols, Antoine Cabarrus, Anthony Binswanger, Will Albin, John Inman, Doug Legursky, David Ziegler, Marcus Moresea, Ryland Wilson and Byron Tinker. Morris and Legursky will have one additional game, when they travel to Hawaii to play in the Hula Bowl in January.