By Sam Weiderhaft
Despite a late scare, the Marshall Thundering Herd (9-4) held off the UConn Huskies (6-7) 28-14 to claim the third annual Myrtle Beach Bowl title on Monday evening. Marshall forced four turnovers in route to the program’s 13th bowl victory, and first since 2018.
The Thundering Herd ended their season on a five-game winning streak, the first time they have finished a season with five straight wins since 2002. Making their first bowl appearance in seven years, the Huskies dropped their second-consecutive game to Marshall, falling in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl 16-10.
Marshall running back Rasheen Ali rushed for 92 yards on 15 carries with a long of 38 in the victory. The redshirt-sophomore was named Myrtle Beach Bowl MVP for his performance.
“It felt good,” Ali said. “That’s all I can say. I’m super happy that we won, we are champions.”
With Ali leading the rushing attack, quarterback Cam Fancher completed 10 of 20 passing attempts for 93 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The redshirt-freshman connected with six different receivers, with Corey Gammage leading the way with three receptions for 50 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown catch for the first score of the game. The offense finished with 303 yards of total offense, with 210 coming on the ground.
As they have been all year, the Thundering Herd defense was impressive as they held a team to 21 points or less for the ninth time this season. Marshall picked off UConn three times with Micah Abraham, Damion Barber Jr., and Gammage all collecting interceptions. Eli Neal racked up 10 total tackles with 1 ½ tackles for loss and a pass breakup to pace the defense.
“This 2022 team will always be remembered,” Marshall head coach Charles Huff said after the win. “They will always be remembered as the first Sun Belt team, a team that found a way to go 4-0 in November, created opportunity for us to party in December, and will always be remembered as the 2022 Myrtle Beach Bowl champions.”
It was the first bowl victory for Marshall under Huff in his second season at the helm.
After falling behind early, UConn found their offense in the second half with 189 of their 316 total yards coming after halftime. Freshman quarterback Zion Turner committed four turnovers with three interceptions and one fumble. Turner passed for 166 yards while completing nine of his 27 attempts. His favorite target on the day was sophomore wide receiver Aaron Turner, who made five catches for 65 yards and a long of 33.
The Husky offense was balanced with 172 yards through the air and 144 on the ground. Freshman running back Victor Rosa found the end zone twice on runs of 14 and 24 yards while finishing the game with 75 yards on 16 rushes.
The Huskie’s defense forced two turnovers on a forced fumble by senior linebacker Ian Swenson and an interception by redshirt-sophomore defensive back Malik Dixon-Williams. Graduate linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle collected 10 total tackles to lead the Huskies.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” UConn head coach Jim Mora said. “Everything they’ve accomplished this year and the strides and progress they’ve made, I’m proud to be their coach.”
Following a one-win season in 2021, Mora led the Huskies to their most victories since 2015 in his first season.
After forcing a fumble in the first drive of the game, the Huskies gave the ball right back to the Thundering Herd as Turner fumbled at the UConn 34-yard line on a quarterback run. The ball was picked up and returned 18 yards by Isaiah Norman to set up the Marshall drive at the Huskies 16-yard line. After a seven-yard completion, Fancher tossed a nine-yard pass to Gammage for a Thundering Herd touchdown with 11:15 left in the first quarter.
Following two punts by both teams, Turner turned the ball over again by throwing an interception into the hands of Barber Jr. on the defensive line that was returned 34 yards for a touchdown to put Marshall up 14-0 with 3:23 in the first quarter. It was the second pick-six for the Thundering Herd this season.
UConn’s first opportunity to score came after a three-minute 17-second drive that saw the Huskies march 40 yards down the field in seven plays. Lined up at the Marshall 27, Noe Ruelas pushed a 45-yard field goal wide left as Marshall continued to lead by two scores with 8:25 left in the second quarter.
Marshall responded quickly with a drive that saw Ali rush three times for 48 yards before a 10-yard touchdown completion from Fancher to Devin Miller to cap off the drive with 7:05 left in the half. Following the extra point, the Thundering Herd pushed their lead to three scores at 21-0.
The points kept coming as Marshall punched in their fourth touchdown on a two-yard rush by Ali with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter. The run completed a 10-play, 79-yard drive that took just four minutes and five seconds off the clock.
After falling behind 28-0, the Huskies responded with rushing touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. First, Rosa took a 14-yard rush to the house after a 32-yard completion from Turner to Keelan Marion set UConn up to score. The following Marshall drive saw the Huskies defense step up and hold the Thundering Herd to just seven yards on six plays before a 23-yard punt to the Marshall 40. The Huskies cashed in on the solid field position by running four plays for 40 yards, completed with a 24-yard touchdown carry by Rosa to end the third quarter. UConn cut the deficit to 28-14 after the made extra point.
The momentum continued for UConn as the defense halted a Marshall drive with an interception by Dixon-Williams at the UConn 17. The Huskies pushed the ball down to the Marshall 45-yard line before an incomplete pass on 4th and 13 turned the ball over on downs.
Following another defensive stop, the Huskies got the ball back and pushed into Marshall territory courtesy of two 15-yard penalties on the Thundering Herd. With time winding down in the fourth quarter and the ball at the Marshall eight-yard line, UConn was called for a holding on first and goal that backed them up 10 yards. With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Turner was forced out of the pocket and threw his third interception on a third and 20 as Micah Abraham picked him off in the end zone.
Marshall held the ball for the final five minutes and nine seconds to secure the 28-14 victory.