Herd Holds On For 17-16 Win Over Memphis

All Marshall fans held their breath, as did a few hundred Tiger fans, as Memphis back-up quarterback Will Hudgens heaved a 70-yard rainbow towards the end zone with no time on the clock. Receiver Steve Black had his heels on the goal line as the ball approached but senior Marshall safety C.J. Spillman knocked the pass away to save the day, and save the win, for the Herd, 17-16 over the Tigers.

Marshall improved to 2-1 on the season, and opened Conference USA play 1-0. Memphis falls to 0-3 on the season and 0-2 in C-USA. "We grew a lot tonight," said head coach Mark Snyder of the win. "I can't tell you how proud I am of our defense, holding a team averaging 30 points per game to just 16 points."

Darius Marshall broke free from Memphis defender D.A.Griffin (5) and headed to the end zone for this 40-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Overall, Memphis out-gained the Herd 462 to 403 yards of total offense, and had about two more minutes of possession than Marshall. But the defense held the Tiger running game over 70 yards under its average of 169 yards per game, holding a second opponent in three games under 100 yards rushing as U of M had 94 yards rushing total. "We certainly had our chances to win the game," said Tommy West, Memphis' eighth-year head coach. West is 0-3 to start the year and just 41-47 overall, though U of M has been to bowls in four of the last five seasons.

The last time Memphis was 0-3 to start it stretched to 0-5 in 1998. "I think the difference in the game was offensively, we were not able to run the ball very well in the first half. I thought they out-worked us a little bit," said West.

Snyder was just happy to be at "The Joan," where his teams have played very well, posting a 12-7 mark, and two of those losses were Kansas State and WVU. The key to this year is improving road play, with back-to-back trips scheduled to Southern Miss (0-2) and West Virginia (0-1). Snyder's teams are 2-17 away from Huntington, and one of those was a win over Tulane at Mobile, Alabama, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Albert McClellan and Mario Harvey wrapped up Memphis back Curtis Steele. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

"It was good to come home and open up conference play here. We played a very good Memphis team and we played very hard. They gave us their best shot; they gave us everything that they had. I'm proud of our guys. The Herd mixed the run and pass very well. Sophomore Darius Marshall, who fumbled twice in a 24-21 loss at Memphis last year, rushed for a career-best 140 yards on 27 carries and scored once with no loose balls. He had a 74-yard touchdown called back for stepping out of bounds on one of the endless replays that stretched the game out to 3:25, the longest game of the year so far for the Herd. Marshall also won the turnover battle, with no fumbles and no interceptions, while Memphis fumbled twice and gave the ball up once. Another Memphis fumble, recovered by the Herd, was overturned on a replay.

Darius Passmore ran away from Memphis defensive back Deante' Lamar for extra yardage. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

MU quarterback, and red-shirt freshman, Mark Cann was 14-of-28 passing, throwing for 224 yards and one touchdown, that a beauty to Darius Passmore where the senior receiver drug his foot to give Marshall a 17-13 lead with just three seconds left in the third quarter, allowing Marshall to retake the lead after Memphis had gone up 13-10 on one a U of M field goals by Matt Reagan with 5:01 left on the third quarter clock. Marshall's defense would allow just one more Reagan field goal in the fourth, at the 8:14 mark, and made it stand up in front of a noisy crowd of 27,349 yards.

"That's the fullest student section I've seen," said Snyder of the noise generated late in the game. "It was a big key to the Herd pulling out a victory. Our kids fought to the very last," said Snyder. "Our defensive backs took the challenge and they competed. I also think you saw our depth."

One of those who competed was the gray-beard of the defensive backs in fourth-year starter Spillman. The senior had seven tackles, three solos, forced a fumble and saved his best for last by breaking up the "Hail Mary" throw by Memphis at the end of the game. "That's a play you want to live for as a football player," said Spillman. "You want to be a player who makes a play that controls the game."

Spillman also praised the young corners and coaches, saying the win was the result of a great week of practice. "We came out with game plan in practice, and we had to teach (the younger players) to go take balls away, not wait for the receiver to catch balls and then make tackles." In the contest, Marshall broke up 12 passes by Memphis, although U of M quarterback Arkelon Hall did throw it all over the field.

The juco from The College of the Sequoias, a teammate last year with the Herd's Maurice Graham and Josh Miller, hit 28-of-51 passes for 364 yards, about 50 yards above his average in the first two games. But he threw for no touchdowns in the game. As he does to many team, 6-foot-8 Carlos Singleton gave the Herd fits again by catching 11 passes for 158 yards in the game. Duke Calhoun, who played despite not showing up for practice last Sunday, had five catches for 72 yards and became third all-time at Memphis in receptions.

QB Mark Cann ran for extra yards on The Herd's final scoring drive in the game in the third quarter, which ended with a Darius Passmore TD. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Memphis also did a good job on defense. The Tigers came in giving up 42 points per game, and 434 yards per game to Ole Miss and Rice. They held the Herd to 403 yards, and to just 17 points. Part of the problem, though, for the MU offense was eight penalties for minus-71 yards. "We have got to get rid of silly penalties," said Snyder of the fouls, a couple of which called back big gains. "We've got to be tougher on the offensive line and have got to run the ball better. Unlike last week, we handled adversity better. We took another step tonight because we got down and were able to get back up."

C.J. Spillman went up high to break up the Memphis hail-mary pass at the end of The Herd's 17-16 win over the Tigers. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

The Herd jumped to a lead one minute into the game with a 40-yard touchdown run by Marshall. Reagan cut into the lead midway in the second quarter by hitting the first of his three field goals, a career-best 44-yard kick. He was matched by the Herd's Craig Rantanamorn with 44 seconds left in the first half as the former Herd goal keeper hit his first career field goal attempt from 31-yards and MU led at half, 10-3. Memphis would take the lead in the third quarter with Reagan's second field goal and Hudgen throwing Memphis only touchdown to Earnest Williams from four yards, Williams only catch of the night and another played reviewed at length.

Marshall will head on the road for the next two games. Marshall is 0-3 versus Southern Miss, including an ugly 42-7 loss in 2006 in a game that could have given the Herd a 6-6 record with a win. That game is on Comcast Sports South and the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network. Then, the Herd visits Morgantown, W.Va., to meet in-state rival and No. 24/25 West Virginia, who plays at Colorado on Thursday on ESPN, will meet Marshall in the third-annual "Friends of Coal Bowl," sponsored by the West Virginia Coal Association and the Friends of Coal.

The Herd's next home game is another ESPN game on Friday, October 3, with the Cincinnati Bearcats out of the Big East, like WVU. Marshall will also visit UAB on October 18 and host Houston for ESPN2 on Tuesday, October 28. The next Saturday home game for MU is Homecoming on November 15 against UCF.

NOTES: Eddie Blake, who spent 35 years as a Cabell County Sheriff's Deputy, passed away Saturday morning after a two-year battle with cancer. Blake worked every MU home game at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium from 1991 through 2006, until his health became too bad. He once delivered Robert Harper and your author from the Yeager Airport to the tailgate show in 35 minutes, coming off a basketball road trip, and Harper (now the Voice of Campbell University sports) and I were able to grab a mic as the opening credits finished, thanks to Eddie. He will be missed at Marshall, at the courthouse and all around the area...Duke Calhoun has now caught a pass in 27 straight games with five for 72 yards against MU, tying the school record. He is third in catches at U of M with 116 catches. John "Fuzzy" Filliez holds the MU record of 42 straight games with a catch, 1973-76...Memphis' fumble by Hall was the first turnover by fumble for the Tigers in the last eight games...Passmore leads MU in receiving with 17 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns. No other Herd player has a reception for touchdown, and Passmore is averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. His long tonight was for 47 yards...D. Marshall has 305 yards rushing and three touchdowns in three games this year...Maurice Kitchens led MU with 12 tackles, one an eight-yard sack of Hall. Brandon Burns, a junior college safety who got his first MU start at linebacker tonight, was second with nine tackles and a pass broken up, while red-shirt freshman DeQuan Bembry started for the second-straight game and had eight tackles and two passes broken up. Linebacker Mario Harvey had eight tackles and a ten-yard sack, while red-shirt corner T.J. Drakeford had six tackles and a team-best four passes broken up, two against Singleton.

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