MARSHALL – After the kind of bounce-back season Marshall enjoyed, the Redhawks had high expectations for the playoffs.
However, Marshall now ends 2015 feeling the season was unfinished, due mostly to the Redhawks not being able to finish the job on key drives in its first-round contest against Vicksburg.
Vicksburg held off Marshall, 16-8, in this Division 3 first-round football playoff contest at Marshall on Saturday. Vicksburg goes to 8-2 on the season and will play at Coldwater in the second round. Marshall, which advanced to the playoffs after going 3-6 last season, ends the year at 7-3.
The Redhawks saw two drives end in the shadow of the end zone and then had a third drive stall in the final seconds when Marshall was hoping for an improbable comeback.
Those key plays by the Vicksburg defense gave the Bulldogs the momentum it needed for a playoff win on the road. The Bulldog head coach said the first stop on the first drive of the game set the tone.
“They ran the ball well on that first series on us. It took the first drive for us to gather ourselves a little and to see how they were going to come at us,” Vicksburg coach Tom Marchese said. “But after that our guys stepped up. Our guys took a punch in the beginning and then came back and gathered themselves and executed offensively and defensively.”
On the first drive, Marshall’s strong running game looked like it has all season. On seven plays, the Redhawks had climbed to within the 10 yard line, looking for the first score of the contest. However, Marshall was stopped on fourth down on the seven.
Later in the game with Vicksburg up 9-0 and Marshall hoping to get on the board, the Redhawks threw an interception, ending a drive again at the seven yard line.
“Those were a couple big spots where we stopped them that turned the game,” Marchese said. “That first drive, where it was bend but don’t break by our guys, and then the interception later.That was some big plays for our team on big downs.”
That’s where the frustration was for first-year Marshall coach Jason Stealy as he saw his team’s season come to an end. Stealy also added an early fumble to his team’s miscues as the reason for his team’s struggles.
“I thought we moved the ball just fine, but we made mistakes,” Stealy said. “That first drive, we get stopped. If we get the first down and score things are different. Then we fumbled on the second drive. Then later we throw an interception. Just too many mistakes and they took advantage of it.”
Overall, Marshall’s running attack was held to just 143 yards with Forrest Jackson getting 100 yard on 23 carries.
“They packed the box, had 9, 10 guys in the box. They put more men in there than we could block, but that’s what we do so we wanted to keep at it,” Stealy said.
Vicksburg opened the scoring with a long 15-play drive that ended with a Brenden Lovell touchdown pass for three yards to Deondre Lovell to make it 6-0 with 10:07 left in the first half.
That would be all the scoring the first half. The Bulldogs then opened the second half with another long 12-play drive resulting in a 35-yard field goal by Migel Garrido to give the visitors a 9-0 lead.
Following the aforementioned interception that stopped a Marshall drive, Vicksburg went on a 14-play drive that ended with a quarterback keeper from seven yards out by Lovell to make it 16-0 with 7:30 left in the game.
Marshall would get on the scoreboard late as Chris Upright scored from two yards out in the final minutes. A two-point conversion run by Upright made it a one-score game at 16-8 with 2:27 remaining.
However, a final Marshall drive stalled inside the 30 on fourth down, giving Vicksburg the win.
Upright finished with 10 tackles to lead Marshall with Hunter Medler getting 6.5 stops and Nate Steele adding 5.5.
Marshall ends the season with a loss, but with the idea the program is on its way back after making the postseason. Prior to this year, the Redhawks had only made the postseason once since 2009.
“Right now it hurts, but these guys, especially the seniors, they laid the foundation for where we want to be at Marshall as a football program. And they can be proud of that,” Stealy said.