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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Herd rallies behind Morris

MOBILE, Ala. -- Answering any questions about a young team's grit and belief in self, Marshall earned an entertaining, season-saving victory.

Facing every opportunity to call it another frustrating night in an empty stadium, Marshall repeatedly battled back. Resiliency and fight were rewarded, eventually, with a 27-26 comeback victory Saturday night against Tulane before an announced crowd of 13,290 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

The Thundering Herd (4-4, 3-2 Conference USA) trailed 26-14 in the fourth quarter but earned a must win behind a Bernie Morris 3-yard touchdown run at the 8:38 mark and Ahmad Bradshaw's 3-yard TD with 2:10 remaining.

Morris, who was benched after seven consecutive starts, replaced Jimmy Skinner at quarterback after Skinner's third interception was returned 66 yards for a touchdown. Tulane led 26-14 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter and Marshall was staring at a third loss in four games.

Tulane (2-5, 1-4) returned two of three Skinner pickoffs for touchdowns.

Marshall dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage down the stretch, however, keeping its bowl game hopes alive.

Down and perceivably out following a 20-0 Tulane second quarter, Marshall rebounded on Chubb Small's 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half

Small split a crease and outran two defenders - with angles - for the Herd's first kickoff return to the end zone since Sept. 11, 1999 (James Williams vs. Liberty).

Trailing 20-14 with the ball at midfield, Marshall was flagged for offensive pass interference on a Jimmy Skinner incomplete pass that landed 25 yards from the nearest Herd receiver. On the next play (first down and 25), Skinner's pass sailed high and Boger took advantage with his ninth career interception and second of the game. He weaved through Marshall's offense for a 12-point lead, sending Skinner to the bench with three interceptions.

Marshall wasted little time discarding recent first quarter frustrations, parlaying a 26-yard Small punt return into a short field and seven-point lead. Taking over at the Tulane 35-yard line, the Herd reached the end zone in six plays, the capper being a 16-yard Skinner strike to tight end Jeff Mullins.

Skinner found Mullins open across the middle and tossed a perfectly-timed, third down pass for Marshall's first opening quarter points in six games. The first quarter drought lasted a combined 85:54.

The Herd led entering the second quarter for first time since the Sept. 1 season opener against William & Mary, but Tulane quickly reversed momentum. On the second quarter's opening play, cornerback Bruce Youmans stepped in front of Skinner sideline pass and sprinted 51 yards for a tying touchdown.

Less than six minutes later, Lester Ricard delivered a 34-yard touchdown dart to Preston Brown. Tulane's 13-7 lead resulted from a quick-strike 71-yard drive that included a 20-yard Lester Ricard pass to Bubba Terranova and a 16-yard Matt Forte run.

Chris Hawkins blocked the extra point kick, maintaining the deficit at 13-7 with 9:08 remaining in the first half.

Tulane's big-play ambush continued with a 48-yard punt return by Israel Route to the Thundering Herd 23. Route stopped after catching Marty Biagi's 40-yard punt, reversed his field and sprinted along Marshall's sideline, setting up Jovon Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run.

On third and goal and following a Herd timeout, Jackson bounced outside to the left and scored untouched for a 20-7 advantage with 4:52 left in the second quarter.

Shell-shocked Marshall reached Tulane territory on its ensuing possession, courtesy of a questionable pass interference call on third down. Skinner completed a 13-yard crossing pass to Marcus Fitzgerald to the 27-yard line, but strong safety Tra Boger intercepted the next attempt, maintaining the 13-point halftime edge.

The Green Wave's 20-point second quarter surge equaled a season high for points allowed in a period. Virginia Tech piled on 20 in the third quarter on Oct. 8.

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