Graham, Marshall get by Rice 24-20

Published 10:54 pm Saturday, October 15, 2011

Staff Report

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall established a 17-6 lead in the first half, but it took a touchdown from Tron Martinez late in the fourth quarter to secure a 24-20 win over Rice on homecoming weekend.

A.J. Graham made his first career start at quarterback for the Thundering Herd and contributed two rushing touchdowns to help Marshall earn their second conference win of the season.

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Marshall improved to 3-4 (2-1 C-USA), while Rice dropped to 2-4 (1-2 C-USA) with the loss.

Vinny Curry continued his dominance in the trenches and collected 3.5 sacks in the game, 2.5 of which came on third down situations in three different drives. The senior finished with nine tackles and added 4.0 tackles for a loss to his career total of 40.

Senior safety Omar Brown, who ranks fourth in the conference in tackles, led the Herd with 12 and Devin Arrington and Kellen Harris produced eight tackles each.

Offensively, both teams used a wide variety of quarterbacks, with Marshall using two and Rice using three. For Marshall, Graham finished 11-for-22 for 99 yards and gained 129 yards on the ground. Rakeem Cato made appearances on two different drives, going three-for-five for a total of 12 yards. The Herd ground game finished with 217 yards and a 5.0 rushing average.

Rice primarily switched between Taylor McHargue and Turner Petersen at quarterback during the game and Nick Fanuzzi entered late in the second half when McHargue went down with an injury. McHargue finished 10-for-16 for 150 yards and one passing touchdown, recording 33 yards with his legs. Petersen was primarily used in wildcat formations and totaled 55 yards on the ground, averaging 7.9 yards.

Marshall ended their rushing touchdown drought to get on the board first in the opening quarter. Graham scored his first career touchdown on a 15-yard scramble and recorded Marshall’s first rushing touchdown of the season to establish a 7-0 lead.

Graham extended the lead to 14-0 on the first drive of the second quarter with another rushing touchdown. The five-yard run topped off an 11 play, 87 yard drive that goes down as the longest drive of the season for the Herd.

Rice scored their first points of the game in the second quarter after a drive led by McHargue and Petersen, which produced a 35-yard field goal from Chris Boswell to trim Marshall’s lead to 14-3.

Boswell used his leg again on Rice’s ensuing drive, this time from the 24-yard line to put the score at 14-6.

With the clock at 1:12 near the end of the second quarter, Graham targeted Tron Martinez and Antavious Wilson for gains of over ten yards to get the Herd to the Owl 28-yard line. Tyler Warner tied his season-long 45-yard field goal mark to put the Herd up 17-6 as the clock expired for the first half.

Rice’s six points at halftime was the least amount of points Marshall has allowed in in the first half all season. Also, the 17 points by the Herd was a season-high for most scored in the opening period.

In the third quarter, McHargue connected with Vance McDonald for a 49-yard touchdown on the first drive of the half to push the score to 17-13. The reception was McDonald’s fourth touchdown catch of the year and the pass was the longest touchdown reception of the season for the Owls.

Rice followed with another touchdown on their next offensive drive and took the lead 20-17. Running back Sam McGuffie put the team on his shoulders and used four touches to run the ball for a combined 33 yards, punching in a four yard touchdown to give Rice the lead.

Marshall’s defense forced two fumbles in the fourth quarter and the Herd offense capitalized on the second fumble in the final three minutes of play to put the go-ahead touchdown on the board. The fumble was caused by none other than Vinny Curry and the ball was recovered by Monterius Lovett at the Rice 23-yard line.

“I saw Vinny Curry make the fumble and then I saw the ball on the ground,” said Lovett about the play. “I knew I needed to get it because our offense needed the ball and we needed to score. I got it on the bounce.”

The Herd used five plays to get the ball into the end zone and Martinez was the tool used to give the Herd the lead. Martinez rumbled in from four yards out to record the first touchdown scored by a Marshall running back this season and mark the final score 24-20.

“I’m proud of how our football team hung in there and fought,” commented Coach Holliday after the game. “That’s one thing we want to instill in this program is to just play as hard as you can on every snap. I thought Rice did a nice job at halftime coming out and creating some issues for our defense. They kept hanging in there and to win the game at the end like we did will help us immensely.”

Marshall will travel to Houston next Saturday to contest the undefeated Houston Cougars. The game is set to kickoff at 4:30 p.m. ET.