In a showdown between former Conference USA Rivals, the UTSA Roadrunners secured their first-ever bowl victory by overpowering the Marshall Thundering Herd with a convincing 35-17 win Tuesday night at Toyota Stadium. The game unfolded with the usual twists and turns that we have become accustomed to in these smaller bowl games. Some key regular season players were missing, but reserves stepped up to take the lead. And UTSA reaped the benefits of its first bowl win after 13 years as an FBS program.
Marshall’s Dominates Early
Marshall kicked off the game with a bang, establishing a commanding 14-0 lead. Eli Neal‘s interception set the stage for a swift touchdown run by Ethan Payne, followed by a 64-yard scoring dash from running back Rasheen Ali. Despite these early successes, Marshall couldn’t sustain its momentum.
Marshall’s defense made significant plays early on. The Thundering Herd forced three turnovers, including interceptions by Neal and Micah Abraham. Neal’s interception, coupled with a fumble recovery, showcased the Thundering Herd’s defensive abilities. Abraham’s standout performance elevated him to the top of Marshall’s record books in passes defended.
The result of Marshall’s tight defense was UTSA having five red zone appearances early on and coming away with no points out of them.
Marshall’s Rece Verhoff kicked a 44-yard field goal, securing the Herd’s final lead at 17-14. However, UTSA seized control with late first-half and third-quarter touchdowns, ultimately sealing the victory by scoring 35 of the final 38 points in the game.
UTSA’s Freshman Quarterback Shines in the Spotlight
The Roadrunners were playing without the guy who had been the face of the program for several years. Quarterback Frank Harris sustained a shoulder injury in the regular season finale against Tulane and had to sit out the bowl game. UTSA rallied behind freshman quarterback Owen McCown, son of former NFL quarterback Josh McCown. Initially struggling, McCown started the night one for six passing. He eventually found his groove in the second quarter, connecting on crucial plays and orchestrating a series of impressive drives. He completed 21 of his next 25 passes for 250 yards and two touchdown passes. He had the benefit of working with the guy who had been one of Harris’ go-to receivers all year. Joshua Cephus had seven catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He was named the game’s offensive MVP. He is also now UTSA’s all-time leading receiving yards leader.
Despite falling into an early 14-0 deficit, UTSA’s defense tightened, blanking Marshall in the second half.
Traylor Gets Long-Sought After Bowl Win
UTSA finished the season 9-4 overall and 7-1 in the AAC. Head coach Jeff Traylor got a coffee drenching after the game, (with the help of the sponsor Scooter’s Coffee, and no, it was not fresh brewed coffee). He repeatedly referred to his team’s performance as, “Gritty,” in his post-game comments. Harris, and senior Rshad Wisdom who was also out due to injuries, stayed with the team, watching from the sidelines.
Marshall finished the season 3-5 in Sun Belt play and 6-7 overall. It is the first time the Thundering Herd has been sub-.500 at the end of a season since 2016. They lost seven of their final nine games this season.