Marshall bowl eligible

HUNTINGTON – Marshall became bowl eligible on Saturday, winning for the sixth time in a dominating performance against Conference USA opponent Alabama-Birmingham at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall (6-3, 4-1) scored seven touchdowns in the first three quarters before coach Doc Holliday slowed down the Thundering Herd, which went on to record a 56-14 win.

MU quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 14 of 20 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Tommy Shuler, Eric Frohnapfel and Kevin Grooms. Cato played virtually a flawless game, as he neither threw an interception nor got sacked.

Meanwhile, Marshall’s running attack accounted for 383 yards on 32 carries with three backs topping the 100-yard mark. Steward Butler had 139 yards and a touchdown on just seven attempts, Essray Taliafero gained 118 yards on 12 totes and Kevin Grooms had 108 yards and two TDs on just eight rushing tries.

Yet, it was Marshall’s defense that set the tone. After UAB received the opening kickoff, the Blazers immediately faced a third down and 5 situation at their own 17.

That’s when Thundering Herd linebacker Neville Hewitt sacked UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry, causing a fumble that was recovered by Marshall’s Brandon Sparrow at the UAB 12. Two Taliafero runs and the Herd had the game’s first touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 12:41 left in the first quarter.

Any thoughts of a rout were temporarily halted when UAB (2-7, 1-4) then went on a 65-yard march, capped by Darrin Reaves 2-yard TD run that tied the game with 8:59 left in the opening stanza.

Marshall didn’t panic. Instead, the Herd offense equaled UAB’s feat, driving 65 yards with the final 39 coming on a Cato to Frohnapfel pass for a 14-7 lead with 7:26 remaining in the first period.

After the Herd’s defense stopped Alabama-Birmingham from converting a fourth and three and giving Marshall the ball at its own 29, Grooms broke over the middle for a 71-yard score and a 21-7 lead with 3:22 left in what already had been a productive quarter.

The same could be said for the second stanza, which saw Cato hit Shuler with a 12-yard TD pass and throw a 9-yard scoring strike to Grooms.

Sandwiched in between, UAB scored on a 32-yard pass from Perry to Darrin Reaves. It was 35-14 Marshall at halftime.

The second half was all Herd as Marshall went on scoring drives of 79, 94 and 86 yards, chewing up the clock and the yardage and wearing down UAB’s defense.

Taliafero scored on a 16-yard run, Cato tallied from 6 yards out and Butler put an exclamation point on the day with a 49-yard score.

Marshall will have a short week of preparation as it travels to Tulsa for a 7:30 p.m. game on Thursday that will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.