In a game that touted a matchup of two stellar defenses between Marshall (10-3) and UCONN (6-7), it would be the Herd that would better the Huskies for a 16-10 win in the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field.
With the win, Marshall becomes the first ever "Group of Five" program with three consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins and Doc Holliday runs his bowl record while at the helm of the Herd to 4-0.
Marshall held UCONN to only 213 total yards of offense and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes in the win. The Herd racked up 171 yards on 41 carries and converted 11-of-17 attempts on third down.
Marshall's defense stood tall to open the contest, forcing a quick three and out by UCONN. Marshall moved down to the UCONN 41-yard line on three Hyleck Foster carries and a 21-yard completion from Chase Litton to Deandre Reaves, but failed to convert on third and short. Tyler Williams pinned the Huskies on their own 9-yard line, setting up a long field for UCONN's second possession.
Much like their first series with the ball, the Huskies had no answer for the Herd's swarming defense as Steve Dillon dropped quarterback Bryant Shirreffs in the backfield for a loss of five.
Reaves showed why teams fear the speedster from the Herd on the ensuing punt return, setting up Marshall at the UCONN 20-yard line after a 26-yard return. Reaves finished with a game-high nine grabs for 88 yards. He was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Thundering Herd fans got an late Christmas present as the men in green trotted on to the field with Devon Johnson returning to action for the first time since October 17 versus FAU. Johnson rumbled for four yards on his first carry in over three months, requiring three Huskies defenders to bring the powerful back to the turf. On the second play of the drive, Litton found a wide-open Ryan Yurachek from 16 yards and a Marshall 7-0 lead with 8:10 left in the first quarter.
Litton finished 23-of-34 in the contest, 218 yards, one touchdown and interception in his first bowl game appearance.
The Huskies provided an answer trailing early in the first, using designed runs by quarterback Shirreffs to march from his own 25-yard line down to the Marshall 37. With the Herd's defense on its heels, Shirreffs attacked through the air, hitting Arkeel Newsome for a 17-yard strike to the Marshall 8-yard line, setting up first and goal. The Huskies evened the contest on an 8-yard rushing score by Ron Johnson, capping off a 13-play, 75-yard drive with 1:51 left in the quarter.
Defense remained the name of the game in the second quarter by both programs, with neither team finding the endzone. Marshall opened the quarter with a long sustained drive down to the UCONN 8-yard line, but failed to move the chains on third and seven. Nick Smith's 21-yard field goal gave Marshall its second lead of the game at 10-7 with 8:04 left in the half.
UCONN failed to move past midfield, but a booming 53-yard punt by Justin Wain pinned Marshall on its own 4-yard line with 4:57 left in the half.
Litton and Reaves moved the Herd into Huskies territory, but offensive coordinator Bill Legg used some trickery on third short to move the chains. Michael Birdsong grabbed the first down for the Herd on a 6-yard designed quarterback run down to the UCONN 38. Another Litton to Yurachek strike for 16 yards took the Herd to the Huskies 11-yard line with 3 seconds remaining in the half. Smith split the uprights from 29 yards and the Herd head to the locker room leading 13-7.
Marshall's defense held UCONN to only 111 total yards in the half and only six first downs while racking up 213 yards of its own, but only 72 yards on the ground.
Out of the locker room, both defensives continued to bend but not break. Marshall opened the half by driving to the UCONN 17-yard line, but failed to convert on fourth and two after a Litton to Yurachek pass attempt fell incomplete.
UCONN looked to use the momentum from the defensive stop to close the scoring gap, trailing by six. The Huskies moved from their own 17-yard line to near midfield, only to have Shirreffs pass intercepted by Kendall Gant at the Marshall 36.
Marshall once again drove deep into UCONN territory, but failed to convert on third and one after Marquise Vann stood up Johnson for no gain, setting up fourth down for the Herd. Early movement on the fourth down play by the Herd set up another Smith field goal attempt from the UCONN 25-yard line, but the results were not in the Herd's favor. Smith's kick sailed toward the uprights with plenty of distance, but missed wide right.
Back-to-back UCONN first downs aided by a Marshall personal foul moved the Huskies to the Herd 35-yard line. Ryan Bee hammered Shirreffs in the backfield for the Herd's second sack of the day and an incomplete pass set up a 52-yard field goal try by the Huskies. With two ticks left on the third quarter clock, Bobby Puyol squeaked the attempted off the crossbar and through the uprights, trimming Marshall's lead to only three.
Leading 13-10 to begin the final stanza, Litton sent a deep jump ball to the UCONN 10-yard line toward Davonte Allen, only to have Jamar Summers collect his eighth pick of the season.
Three Huskies' first downs removed the goal line shadows from the offensive's back, with Shirreffs rushing for seven and 12 yards and hitting Steve Hashemi on a 10-yard pass, moving the offense to their own 47. However, Marshall's defense would hold and force another Wain punt with 8:19 left in the contest.
Clinging to a three-point lead, Marshall turned to a fresh Keion Davis in the backfield for an answer. On only Davis' third carry of the game, the redshirt freshman raced 41-yards for the longest carry in the game, taking the Herd from its own 17 to the Huskies 42. Marshall added another Smith field goal from 32 yards for a 16-10 lead after a 13-play, 80-yard drive burned 6:35 from the clock, leaving less than two minutes for the Huskies, needing a touchdown for the win.
Davis finished with a team-high 73 yards on 10 carries, all in the fourth quarter.
Marshall dropped Shirreffs for the third time in the contest after Gary Thompson recorded his ninth sack of the season to set up second and long. UCONN had one final shot, facing fourth and nine from its own 41, but Hergy Mayala couldn't haul in the pass and the Herd would take over on downs.
Shirreffs finished 10-of-17 for 86 yards with an interception while leading the team in rushing with 75 yards on 19 carries. Newsome finished with five grabs for 33 yards in the loss.