Marshall Falls to Rice in Conference USA Football Championship

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

HOUSTON – It was the chilliest kickoff in Conference USA Championship history at 35 degrees, and Marshall was left in the cold as it fell to Rice, 41-24, Saturday, at Rice Stadium.

Both teams made their first appearances in the C-USA Championship. Marshall ended its season with a 9-4 record, while Rice concluded, 10-3.


After winning the toss and electing to receive the kickoff, Rice capped an 82-yard opening drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass from running back Luke Turner to Donte Moore to go up, 7-0, with 10:15 remaining in the first quarter.


The Herd’s first possession ended after a three-and-out, which included a sack of junior quarterback Rakeem Cato (Miami) for an eight-yard loss, a three-yard rush from redshirt senior running back Essray Taliaferro (Washington, D.C.) and an incompletion to senior tight end Gator Hoskins (Gainesville, Fla).


Only two plays later, the Owls answered with a 75-yard pass from quarterback Taylor McHargue to Jordan Taylor for a touchdown, extending their lead to 14-0 at 8:05 left in the first quarter.


Marshall failed to convert on two more possessions, and the opening quarter ended with the largest first-quarter margin in C-USA Championship history at 14-0 in favor of Rice.


Redshirt junior kicker Justin Haig (Delray Beach, Fla.) put Marshall on the board with a 27-yard field goal with 12:21 left in the second quarter, but Rice answered on its subsequent drive to go up, 21-3.


On its next possession, the Herd found the endzone with a one-yard rush by sophomore tight end Devon Johnson (Richlands, Va.), cutting Rice’s lead to 21-10 with 9:18 left in the half.


Despite starting its next three possessions inside its own 10-yard mark and ending each drive with a punt, Marshall’s defense held strong for the remainder of the half, forcing the Owls to three consecutive punts.


The Herd began the second half with the ball, but turned it over on its opening drive with a Cato interception at the 12:06 mark. Rice took over at its own 22, but could not convert the turnover and punted. Marshall responded with a three-and-out of its own, giving the Owls the ball at their own 39 after a 40-yard punt. To end a 61-yard drive, Rice’s Darik Dillard rushed for 17 yards for a touchdown, and a missed extra point put the score at 27-10 in the Owls’ favor.


Following another Marshall punt, the Owls completed a 70-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Turner to Connor Cella, extending Rice’s lead to 34-10. The 24-point margin marked the largest scoreboard deficit for the Herd all season.


Marshall responded on the next drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Taliaferro, shrinking Rice’s lead to 34-17 with 11:02 to go. With the scoring drive, Cato’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass improved to 31, tying him for the FBS’ lead with Fresno State’s Derek Carr, who plays Saturday evening versus Utah.


The Herd’s woes continued after it turned the ball over on downs and Rice took advantage with a 16-yard rushing touchdown by Charles Ross. The 41-17 lead matched Marshall’s largest deficit of the season (24) with 8:09 remaining.


But, it didn’t end there. A three-yard pass from Cato to redshirt senior wide receiver Devon Smith (White Plains, Md.) settled the score at 41-24.


Marshall was outgained, 487-371, by the Owls, but found more yards in the air than Rice at 265-239. Cato ended the game at 24-of-41, 265 yards and two touchdowns. His 24 completions take him to 270 in 2013 and into eighth place on the single-season list, passing Michael Payton (1992).