HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Three turnovers, a blocked field goal and a late extra-point mishap were too much for Marshall to overcome in a 28-27 loss to Southern Miss in their home finale Saturday.
“I thought going in it was going to be a fight, that is what it was,” said coach Doc Holliday. “I thought it would come down to a couple of plays, that’s what it did.
“It came down to that kick there at the end of time and we didn’t get it done. At the end of the day they made one more play than we did.”
Marshall (7-5, 4-4 C-USA) scored with 1:15 left on Chase Litton’s 9-yard pass to tight end Ryan Yuracheck. The game seemed destined for overtime but a low snap on the extra point didn’t allow the Herd to get a kick off, and Southern Miss (8-4, 6-2) walked away with a stunning one-point victory.
Yuracheck, who was one of 13 members of the Herd playing in their last home game, did all he could to deliver a win pulling in seven of nine targets for 56 yards and three touchdowns.
“He just plays so hard everyday,” Holliday said. “He has brought so much to this program on and off the field. I am going to miss him and I am proud of him.”
Yuracheck said he would trade all the statistics he accumulated in his four-year career for a final win at the Joan.
“There is absolutely no satisfaction in how I played,” he said. “I wanted to win this one not only for myself but for the 12 other guys I was fortunate enough to take the field with one last time.”
With receiver Tyre Brady injured, receivers Willie Johnson and Hyleck Foster were called upon to go up against Southern Miss’s 16th-ranked passing defense. Johnson finished with six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Foster, playing in his last home game, also delivered bringing in five catches for 87 yards, including a 26-yard circus catch off a tip from Ryan Yuracheck that set up Marshall’s final touchdown.
“The seniors I came in with played their heart out,” said Foster.
The run game struggled once again for Marshall, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. Keion Davis carried 15 times for just 31 yards. Tyler King was more effective carrying the ball 9 times for 48-yards, but his fumble in the fourth quarter set up what would become USM’s game winning drive.
Quarterback Chase Litton threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
Litton said the final touchdown drive didn’t materialize a victory.
“We lost the game. Stuff like that gets forgotten about because the main thing to do is win. All we wanted to do was send (our seniors) out the right way,” said the junior quarterback. “You have guys like Yuracheck, Rodney (Allen), D’Andre Wilson, and Tony Pittman; guys who when I first got here put me under their wing and helped me get better as a person and player.”
Litton was audibly upset not being able to get 13 of his teammates one final home win.
“We are always ready for a bowl game but we wanted to win this one,” he said. “We wanted to send them out right. It is tough having these guys walk out of your life.
Marshall’s defense took some surprise hits when cornerback Chris Jackson and safety Malik Gant, the second-leading tackler on the team, were both surprise scratches.
“Malik is a hell of a player. Not having him out there hurt us but we had guys step up,” said fellow safety C.J. Reavis.
Brandon Drayton got the start for Gant and delivered 12 tackles, second only to Marshall’s resident leading tackler linebacker Chase Hancock. Rodney Allen, also in his final game, got the start for Chris Jackson and 6 tackles and 2 pass break-ups.
Despite 11 hurries Marshall’s defense was unable to bring the quarterback down. Linebacker Juwon Young forced the Herd’s only turnover when he knocked the ball out of running back Ito Smith’s hands in USM territory, the turnover led to points for the offense on the short field.
The Herd’s run defense missed Gant’s strong play against the run, as they gave up 150-yards and a touchdown to running back Ito Smith, quarterback Kwadra Griggs added 61-yards on 12 runs.
Griggs added 170-yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, while also avoiding any turnovers despite completing just 45 percent of his passes in a strong showing for Marshall’s injury riddled secondary.
Southern Miss receiver Korey Robertson was Griggs favorite target, pulling in 7 of a team high 11 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Allenzae staggers found success in the short field as he caught 4 passes for just 27 yards, but delivered 2 red zone touchdowns.
Both special team’s units struggled. USM missed a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter, while Marshall had a 51-yard field goal blocked and mishandled the extra point that cost the Herd a chance at the win.
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson was asked about bowl game preferences after the win, but wanted to take some time to enjoy the win before moving on to the next game.
“I think that’s a big thing to see where you’re going, when you’ve got to play and all that kind of stuff,” said Hopson. “I don’t care, we’ll talk about that later. We’re just glad to be going somewhere.”
Marshall, which has lost four of its last five games, will look to put an end to the skid in a month at a yet-to-be-announced bowl game.
“We can sit around and sulk and have a pity party,” said Yuracheck. “Or we can get healthy, find out who we are playing, and go win our third bowl game for the senior class. We aren’t going to sit around or sulk, we are going to get back to work.”
— By Troy Alexander