Marshall Becomes First Two-Time Winner of St. Petersburg Bowl with 16-10 Victory Over UConn
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Marshall Thundering Herd rode ball control and a solid defensive effort to a 16-10 victory over UConn in the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field on Saturday afternoon. With the win, Marshall becomes the first two-time winner of the event which was first played in 2008.The triumph capped a third straight 10-plus win season and the fifth consecutive bowl game victory for Coach Doc Holliday and the Herd (10-3).
Marshall never trailed and had its offense on the field for nearly 35 minutes, including almost 30 of the 45 minutes in the final three quarters of play. The Herd outgained the Huskies (6-7) in total yards by a 389-213 margin.
Despite the lopsided possession time and yardage totals, the contest remained close throughout as Marshall never had more than a six-point lead.
The only touchdowns in the game came in the opening quarter. Marshall got on the board first thanks to a 16-yard scoring toss from freshman quarterback (and Tampa native) Chase Litton to tight end Ryan Yurachek at the 8:10 mark. UConn’s Ron Johnson knotted the game late in the first period with an 8-yard scoring run.
Field goals dictated the rest of the game as Marshall placekicker Nick Smith set a St. Petersburg Bowl record with three successful kicks in four attempts. Smith connected twice in the second quarter to give the Herd a 13-7 halftime lead and added the final points of the game with a 32-yarder with just 1:44 remaining to give Marshall its final six-point advantage.
UConn placekicker Bobby Puyol put his name into the St. Petersburg Bowl record book as well with a 52-yard field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter. That was the longest field goal in the eight-year history of the St. Petersburg event and helped Puyol earn his team’s MVP honor for the game.
Senior wide receiver Deandre Reaves earned MVP honors for Marshall with a game-high 9 catches for 88 yards. He also had a 26-yard punt return which ranked as the second-longest in the bowl’s history. Litton completed 23-of-34 passes for 218 yards with a touchdown and one interception. Redshirt freshman running back Keion Davis led the Herd’s ground game with 73 yards on 10 carries with all of his rushes coming in the fourth quarter as Marshall chewed up the clock with its running game.
The Herd took over control of the game in the second quarter as they started a stretch of five possessions that included four lasting 10 plays or more. While they only managed to put three field goals on the scoreboard in that stretch, they kept the UConn offense off the field and maintained their lead for the rest of the game.
UConn’s defense kept the Huskies’ hope alive with a fourth-down stop of the Herd at the Huskies’ 17-yard midway through the third quarter with the score at 13-7. The Huskies, though, turned the ball over with an interception and managed to get into Marshall territory just one more time in the game. That was the possession with the record-setting field goal from Puyol which narrowed the gap to 13-10 with just two seconds left in the third quarter.
Marshall put the game away with a six-and-one-half-minute drive midway through the fourth quarter that ended with Smith’s third field goal of the contest. UConn had the ball for less than six minutes in the final period and never moved it past midfield and into Marshall territory to threaten to score.
With 33 wins in the last three seasons, Marshall has the most victories over that span among schools from the Group of Five conferences and trails only six Power Five conference schools in that category. Entering bowl play this year, only Florida State (37), Ohio State (37), Michigan State (36), Alabama (35), Clemson (34) and Oregon (33) had more wins than Marshall.