HOUSTON – The more famous Doc Holliday — that’s not the not the one coaching football at Marshall — is known for a Tombstone.
Maybe one day, the Thundering Herd’s Doc will be the same.
His epitaph might say:
AT LEAST I WON IN TEXAS.
Marshall finally found a way to win in the Lone Star State, outlasting host Rice on Saturday 54-51 in a double overtime game that was remarkable for many things, one of which was the fact that it included 1,240 yards, but no turnovers.
“I guess the No. 1 thing is that we finally won a game in Texas,” Holliday said, somewhat derisively.
“I just wish to hell it wasn’t so hard.”
You’ve heard of “death and taxes” being life’s only certainties. Well, “death in Texas (0-8)” was Marshall’s football certainty until it survived before a Rice Stadium crowd — I use that term very loosely — of 14,204.
Really, the No. 1 thing about the triumph was that the Herd (2-2, 1-0) got a victory in its opener in Conference USA, which as a league is now an unsightly 1-4 against the powerhouse Sun Belt.
As for 1-A, Marshall also got its running game going — no surprise really — against the Owls (1-3, 0-1), who came into the game ranked second last among 124 FBS teams in rush defense at 290 yards per game.
Marshall got 334 — the Herd managed only 376 in its first three games combined — as freshmen running backs Steward Butler (166 yards), Kevin Grooms (103) and Remi Watson (84) combined for six touchdowns on the ground, with Grooms providing what is believed to be a Herd-record seventh in a game for freshmen.
Butler and Grooms became the Herd’s first 100-yard ground duo since Nov. 21, 2009, when Martin Ward (136) and Terrell Edwards-Maye (113) put triple-digits on SMU.
Butler’s 166 was MU’s top rushing effort in Holliday’s three seasons, or since Darius Marshall gained 203 in a Sept. 26, 2009 win over Memphis in Mark Snyder’s last season on his alma mater’s sideline.
While the MU defense was porous — Rice’s quarterback-driven offense had 647 yards — it made two big stops inside the Herd 6 in the final minute of regulation, forcing the Owls to kick a game-tying field goal.
“The end of the game they get down to the 2-yard line and if they score (a touchdown), it’s tough for us to win,” Holliday said.
“But you know what, they dug their heels in (on defense) and we got the thing into overtime and found a way to win.”
It would have been more accurate to say Rice got it into overtime.
Marshall had taken a 41-31 lead with a masterful, methodical 15-play, 73-yard scoring drive that lasted 5:06, with only 4:10 left on the clock.
However, Owl QB Taylor McHargue led his team to a quick score — finished by McHargue’s improbable and impressive 43-yard scoring run — and then Rice eschewed the Herd-expected onside kick and Marshall return man Andre Snipes-Booker made a major boo-boo by fair catching the ball – back-pedaling center fielder-style, at the 6-yard line.
It was at that point that Holliday probably felt something like the Apollo 13 astronauts … “Houston, we have a problem.”
When the Herd defense finally made those aforementioned crucial stops, the sunny, steamy afternoon got more football, and Marshall closed it out on its second OT possession on runs of 20 by Watson and 5 by Grooms.
Rice wasn’t cooked until then.
The Owls, who own C-USA’s lone victory (1-18 record) over a BCS program this season — 25-24 at Kansas — sorely missed McHargue in OT.
After he rushed for the late 43-yard score, he ran for another 47 yards and was injured on the play that took the hosts to the Herd 2 in the waning ticks of regulation.
Marshall helped the Owls, too, in that after it went up 10 with the five-minute drive late in the fourth quarter, the Herd botched the extra-point try on a low snap.
“No question that drive was big,” Holliday said, “but missing the extra point hurt because it would have made it a two-score game (and 11-point lead), and they couldn’t have kicked the field goal to tie it at the end.
“We didn’t play real good defense, but that 2-yard line deal was a difficult situation.
“I’m proud of the way the team played and fought. They never put their heads down … I’m so proud of this team.
“We’re going to learn from this, and they still have got to get better in a lot of areas.
“We got our hearts ripped out (the previous week at home in losing to Ohio), but they played extremely hard then and they did that again today.”
The Herd’s resiliency showed, and the depth Holliday and his staff are building paid off, as did the summer conditioning and preseason camp work in August, with afternoon temperatures and dew points potentially working against the Herd.
And while the Herd coach praised his freshman backs and lauded former starter Travon Van for giving up a starting offensive job to become a second-team cornerback at a spot that has no depth, quarterback Rakeem Cato had another big day, despite taking four sacks.
Cato was 28-of-39 for 259 yards and two scores with no interceptions.
As the Herd heads next Saturday for a 3:15 p.m. date at the Big Ten’s Purdue (2-1), Cato is 142-for-200, with only two picks and 10 touchdowns.
More importantly, he again called and checked into a solid game, as the Herd was 10-of-17 on third-down conversions, 3-of-3 on fourth down and 5-of-5 on red zone scoring opportunities.
“At halftime, (receivers) Coach (Gerad) Parker told us we’d have to score 49 points to win,” Cato said.
“That didn’t happen. We had to score 54 to win this ballgame, so we wanted to keep scoring.”
And that is preferable to being Texas toast.