HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Cougars’ luck finally ran out.
Marshall dominated the Cougars on both sides of the ball en route to a 37-23 victory in front of 20,716 fans Tuesday night at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in a nationally-televised game on ESPN2.
The Cougars (4-4, 3-1 Conference USA) managed to pull off second-half comeback wins the last two weeks against Southern Methodist and Alabama-Birmingham, but the Thundering Herd (4-4, 3-1 C-USA) pounded them early and never let up.
"They definitely played hard tonight," UH sophomore quarterback Case Keenum said. "They were well-prepared and came out and played all four quarters."
Keenum and co. struggled to get anything going against Marshall’s defense in the first half. The Cougars were held to only a field goal and 130 yards in the first half.
Keenum finished with 317 yards on 22-of-41 passing, but 198 of those came in the second half. Keenum also threw two crucial interceptions that both led to Marshall touchdowns. He was also sacked four times.
The Cougars did not score their first touchdown of the game until Keenum hit freshman running back Bryce Beall on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds left in the third quarter. But even that drive ended on a down note as junior kicker Ben Bell missed the extra-point, snapping a streak of 41 consecutive successful PAT attempts.
At that point, the Cougars trailed 30-9 and Marshall was in control.
The Cougars scored their final points when Keenum threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Kierrie Johnson with 12:21 remaining and Beall scored on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter with 2:27 left.
The Cougars have come out of the locker room aggressively in their last couple wins, but it was the Thundering Herd who came out quickly in the second half Tuesday.
Marshall senior linebacker Maurice Kitchens recovered Beall’s fumble at Marshall’s 1-yard line and returned it 80 yards. A personal foul put the Thundering Herd back on Houston’s 32, but freshman quarterback Mark Cann found senior wide receiver Emmanuel Spann five plays later to give Marshall a 20-point lead with 4:35 left to play in the third quarter.
Junior defensive back Ashton Hall intercepted Keenum on the ensuing drive to give the Thundering Herd the ball on Houston’s 3-yard line with 4:15 left in the third. Marshall capitalized when Cann ran it in from one yard out on fourth down to stretch Marshall’s lead to 27 points with 2:52 left in the third quarter.
Marshall sophomore defensive end Michael Janac led the Thundering Herd with nine total assists, four solo, and 1.5 sacks for a loss of six yards.
"They came out and they were real physical up front," senior defensive tackle Tate Stewart said.
The physicality of the game was proved by a string of Houston injuries in the game – junior offensive lineman Josh Bell left the game early with a torn Achilles and freshman wide receiver Patrick Edwards was carted off the field after he ran into carelessly placed wagons on Marshall’s sideline, suffering a compound fracture in his right shin.
Edwards will remain in a Huntington hospital for four-to-five days to be operated on. UH Athletics Director Dave Maggard said the matter would be looked into.
"I don’t think there is any question that it is a problem," Maggard said. "We all noticed it and we want to find out why something like that would occur. It was a serious injury, no doubt about it."
Houston got off to a slow start, punting on all but two of their drives in the first half – Keenum was intercepted once by Kitchens and Bell hit a field goal on the other drives – and went into halftime trailing by at least 13 points for the third consecutive game.
Houston scored its first points of the game on a 22-yard field goal attempt by Bell to put the score at 13-3 with 5:29 left in the first half.