MSH football: Big plays propel Owls to first win
MEXICO -- It wasn't the kind of complete performance desired, but the Marshall football team did enough things on both sides of the line of scrimmage to pick up its first win of the season.
"We just had to get a win and get some confidence," remarked assistant coach Jon Stockman following the Owls' 27-6 NCMC victory Friday at Mexico -- which suffered its third straight loss by that score.
Marshall only had one sustained drive on offense, but came up with three big scoring plays and kept the Bulldogs from moving the ball effectively -- especially during a second half in which the home team had only 41 net yards.
"The last half against Sedalia [Smith-Cotton] and the last two games, they played well defensively," Stockman observed.
After the opening kickoff caromed off one of the Owls' blockers and was recovered by Mexico, poor field position was a handicap for Marshall.
The Bulldogs began their first three drives in opposing territory, twice getting first downs inside the Birds' 15-yard line, but couldn't come up with points.
After the third unsuccessful series, a Mexico punt was downed at the Owls' 1-yard line late in the first quarter.
That looked like trouble when the first two plays gained only a yard, but on third down senior Lucas Hart found senior Kevin Benton for a 40-yard reception and the march was on.
"I don't think they were expecting that," Stockman said. "They were loading the box."
Marshall ground its way to the 'Dogs' 29, but faced third and 7 yards to go when Hart again hooked up with Benton, who outran the defense 29 yards to the corner of the end zone. Freshman Zach Bishop, replacing the Owls' regular kicker -- sophomore Aaron Skinner, who was sick -- nailed the extra point.
That allowed Marshall to stay ahead when the Bulldogs went 65 yards on 12 plays, overcoming three penalties in the process thanks to 29 yards rushing and 39 passing by senior Kurt Loyd, to score on sophomore Shia Miller's one-foot plunge and the conversion kick sailed wide.
With only 2:10 left in the half, it appeared the Owls would have to be satisfied with a one-point lead, until they got the ball to the fastest player on the field. Senior Matt Buford, a two-time conference sprint champion, juggled a hitch pass to the left sideline -- but then gripped the ball, shook off a defender and sped away from everybody for a 63-yard touchdown.
"It's a game of momentum," Stockman noted. "The momentum shifted for us and we finished it out."
While the first half was played mostly in Marshall's end of the field, the Dawgs found their backs to the wall after the break -- Hart having three punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
On their second series, the Owls added to their lead when senior Matt Jacobs -- bottled up during the first half -- broke loose for a 56-yard TD dash, the second-longest of his career.
Marshall recovered the ensuing kickoff, which bounced off the front line like the game-opening one, but was unable to do anything with it except pin the Bulldogs deep in their own end.
That paid off midway through the fourth quarter when Mexico sophomore Austin Reed shanked a punt from his own 8-yard line. The ball stopped near the sideline.
Senior Chase Kempf, realizing nobody was near him, picked it up and rambled 13 yards for the score -- possibly the shortest unblocked punt return for a touchdown in Missouri history.
The Bulldogs (1-4, 1-3 NCMC) had one more chance, when a Marshall reserve muffed a punt at his own 13 with 2:41 remaining, but junior Jonathon Phillips broke through for his second sack of the game on third down and the fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
The Owls had five sacks, senior Dalton Jarvis involved in two of them, after not getting any during the first four games.
However, Jacobs was held under 100 rushing yards for the second straight outing after breaking that mark 10 games in a row.
"I think if we can get the offensive line healthy, we'll get back to rushing the football," Stockman said. "There's been a lot of injuries and illness this week and the team overcame that."
Marshall (1-4, 1-1) will return home Friday for the Football in Pink cancer awareness game against Fulton, which won a 35-34 double-overtime thriller last year.
"We need to come out, get on them early, and pound them," Stockman declared.