It wasn’t easy, but the Marshall Thundering Herd kept its bowl winning streak alive and held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by Colorado State to escape with a 31-28 win in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in front of 26,087 fans at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Herd (8-5) turned a seven-point halftime lead into a 17-point fourth quarter lead, but the Rams (7-6) didn’t go away and cut the lead down to three points before Marshall finally put the game away to win its sixth straight bowl game.
After a couple changes of possession to begin the game, it appeared as though Marshall struck lightning in a bottle with an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by Hyleck Foster, but it was ruled Foster made an invalid fair catch signal, nullifying the return.
After a couple more punts, Marshall quarterback Chase Litton was intercepted by Colorado State’s Jordan Fogal to set the Rams’ offense up at its own 8-yard line. But the Rams were unable to do much with it and the Herd’s offense got the ball back at its own 24.
And one play later, Litton connected with a wide-open Tyre Brady for a 76-yard touchdown to give the Herd a 7-0 lead with 14:29 remaining in the second quarter. But Colorado State had an answer by the tune of a 15-play, 75-yard drive.
The drive was capped off when Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens connected with Detrich Clark for a 5-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter.
The offenses began heating up in the second quarter and Marshall answered the Rams’ touchdown by retaking the lead after Litton connected with Ryan Yurachek for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Herd a 14-7 lead with 6:07 to go in the second quarter.
The Rams responded quickly and the drive was capped off with a Stevens touchdown run to tie the game back up at 14 with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter. But the theme of the quarter continued and the Herd had a huge answer on its ensuing possession.
Just two plays later, Marshall’s Keion Davis broke free for a spectacular 68-yard touchdown run to give the Herd the lead back at 21-14 with 3:55 to go in the first half. That score held into halftime and Marshall took its seven-point advantage into the locker room.
The Herd’s defense forced a Colorado State punt to open up the third quarter, leading to the biggest play of the game for Marshall’s offense when Tyler King broke free for a 90-yard touchdown run to extend the Herd’s lead up to 28-14 with 12:12 remaining in the third quarter.
King’s touchdown run tied the longest run in Marshall history and was the longest touchdown run in the history of the New Mexico Bowl.
Marshall’s defense continued to limit the Rams’ offense and the Herd turned it into more points when Kaare Vedvik connected on a 21-yard field goal to extend the Marshall lead up to 31-14 with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
But early in the fourth quarter, the Rams announced they weren’t going away and Stevens connected with Clark for another touchdown, this time from 24 yards out, to cut the Marshall lead down to 31-21 with 12:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Litton was intercepted on the Herd’s next offensive possession, but the defense picked up the slack and forced the Rams into a turnover on downs. But the Marshall offense was unable to do anything with it and Colorado State got the ball back.
And after a Stevens touchdown run from 1 yard out, the Herd’s lead was down to 31-28 with 6:37 to go in the fourth quarter. Marshall had to punt it back to the Rams, but the defense would go on to make a game-defining stop.
Colorado State drove the ball to its own 44-yard line, but on fourth-and-5 from that point, Marshall’s Davon Durant came up huge by batting down Stevens’ pass before Stevens caught it and lost a yard.
Marshall’s offense was able to get a crucial third-down conversion to ice the game and the Herd walked away with a hard-fought 31-28 win over Colorado State to win the 2017 New Mexico Bowl.
Litton finished 17 for 32 for 262 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions for the Herd while Davis and King both went over 100 yards rushing on the game with 141 and 106 respectively while scoring one touchdown each.
In his first in-game action since the first quarter of the Western Kentucky game on Nov. 11, Brady led all Marshall receivers with six receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown to be named the New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP.
Chase Hancock finished with eight total tackles and 0.5 tackles-for-loss defensively for Marshall while Channing Hames had his best game as a member of the Herd, accounting for eight total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, and two quarterback hurries to be named New Mexico Bowl Defensive MVP.
Stevens finished 25 for 52 for 320 yards and two touchdowns for Colorado State while Dalyn Dawkins led the ground attack with 10 carries for 50 yards, but the Rams only gained a net of 70 yards rushing compared to Marshall’s 239 yards rushing.
Olabisi Johnson finished with six receptions for 119 yards for the Rams while Michael Gallup, a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, finished with six receptions for 68 yards.
Clark also had four receptions for 48 yards and two touchdowns for Colorado State. Max McDonald led the Rams defensively with nine total tackles, one sack, and two tackles-for-loss.
With the win, Marshall extends its FBS-best active bowl winning streak to six dating back to 2009 and improves to 11-2 all-time in bowl games, the highest bowl winning percentage of any FBS program.
Both the Herd and Colorado State will now look forward to the 2018 season and hope a New Mexico Bowl appearance will serve as momentum heading into next season.