ST. JOSEPH -- For the second week in a row, the Marshall football team's first possession ended in a turnover.
It didn't hurt the Owls in the season-opener at Chillicothe, but Lafayette scored on that and two subsequent giveaways Friday to take a 33-14 non-conference victory at St. Joseph. Those three touchdowns, all in the first half, represented the difference.
"You can't turn the ball over and expect to win a football game," noted MHS head coach Jon Stockman, whose team was down 25-0 late in the second quarter before mounting a brief comeback bid. "If we don't spot that team a couple of early scores, I think we're right there in it at the end."
With the remnants of Hurricane Isaac bearing down, the Owls fumbled a punt snap on their own 9-yard line, which junior Shawn Babineaux recovered. The Irish cashed in immediately on senior Jurell Green's touchdown run.
After getting near midfield on its second series, Marshall bollixed a hand-off exchange, with senior Austin Drennen jumping on the loose ball at the home team's 48-yard line. This time it took five plays for Lafayette to score, Green reeling off runs of 19 and 13 yards before sophomore Drew Cortez flipped the ball six yards to junior Cody Massey in the end zone.
Aided by three first downs on penalties, the Owls slugged their way 26 yards on 10 plays before being stopped on downs at the opposing 30-yard line. The Irish drove 70 yards on 12 plays, including 11-yard runs by seniors Curtis Hughes and Kenny Grant, to go ahead 19-0 on Cortez' 4-yard pass to Hughes.
To cap off Lafayette's binge, senior D'Treal Stone returned an interception 41 yards for a TD with 5:53 left in the first half.
A year ago, that blow may have been a knockout to a young Marshall squad, but this team is different. It bowed its neck and got the offense moving again, putting together a 10-play drive and twice converting on third down -- on senior Alex Maupin's 10-yard pass to senior Brandon Johnson and a 4-yard run by senior Marc Plummer.
A pair of Irish penalties, for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct, tacked 30 yards onto the end of a 2-yard loss and got the Owls into striking distance -- Maupin going in on a 9-yard bootleg with 1:23 remaining in the frame.
"Our run game started opening up," Stockman said. "We saw some spots where we could hurt them, but we've got to be more consistent up front getting to linebackers."
On its first play, Lafayette gave up the rock -- Johnson intercepting near midfield. Plummer ran for 23 yards and Maupin found senior Zach Bishop on a 16-yard scoring strike with 10 seconds to go in the half.
Had Marshall been able to make a stop on the Irish's opening possession of the first half, momentum may have carried the Birds all the way back. However, Lafayette went 65 yards on nine snaps, the biggest gain being Green's 30-yard dash to the Owls' 25-yard line, to extend its lead on Cortez' 1-yard quarterback sneak.
"They've got a lot of speed," Stockman said. "They're bigger in person than they are on film. They're huge up front."
Marshall's offense was unable to generate more than one first down on any of its four series of the second half, although offsetting penalties wiped out junior Tyler Cott's 36-yard run to the Irish 12-yard line. Referee Don Willis' officiating crew was nothing if not flag-happy, marking off a total of 246 yards on 25 penalties during the game.
"I've never seen so many flags on the field for two teams in my life," Stockman noted. "We're going to correct those things, we're going to correct the turnovers, and get ready for Mexico.
Green rushed for 103 of the 252 yards gained by Lafayette (2-0), which whipped the NCMC's Bulldogs, 52-16, a week earlier. Plummer had 109 total yards for the Owls (1-1), who play their home opener Friday against that same club.
"Mexico's a good football team," Stockman said. "That's going to be a tough one, too."