Kicking woes doom Herd in loss


Richard Crank

Marshall kicker Nick Smith attempts a field goal against the University of North Texas Oct. 24


The Marshall University football team has to be kicking itself—pending it can actually connect on its target.

Missed kicks were the Herd’s undoing in its 27-24 triple overtime loss Saturday to the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders.

Marshall kickers Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraji combined to miss five field goals, including a potential game-winner at the end of regulation and another, which was blocked, to extend the game into a fourth overtime period.

Smith, who was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza College Place-Kicker Award Nov. 5, went just 1-4 on field goal attempts, missing a 44-yarder, 42-yarder and a 32-yarder which would have won the game as time expired.

Smith was replaced by Curraji, the team’s kickoff specialist, in overtime, but Curraji missed from 38 yards in the second overtime period and had his 39-yarder in the third overtime blocked, sealing the victory for Middle Tennessee State.

“You don’t ever turn away from the guys,” junior center Michael Selby said. “No matter who it is, everyone makes mistakes. You just got to be there for them and tell them ‘hey, get it next time.’”

The missed field goals weren’t the only errors for the Herd, as the team committed 11 penalties and the defense allowed a season-high 554 yards of total offense.

“Every week a team comes in, finding a way to run the ball on us, finding a ways to just get yards on us and everything,” senior linebacker Evan McKelvey said. “Every team finds a weak spot. We just learn from that.”

Despite the gaudy yardage totals for Middle Tennessee State, the Herd defense held the Blue Raiders to just 17 points in regulation, coming up with multiple turnovers in the red zone.

The Herd forced two fumbles in the first half after Middle Tennessee State had driven inside the Marshall 20-yard line. The first preserved a 0-0 tie as defensive tackle Steve Dillon punched the ball lose and junior linebacker Devontre’a Tyler came up with the recovery, while the second was forced by defensive end Gary Thompson and recovered by freshman end Ryan Bee with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.

Sophomore slot cornerback Antavis Rowe also came up with the third and final turnover for the Marshall defense when he intercepted a pass in the end zone just before the halftime, negating a field goal opportunity for Middle Tennessee.

“Every Wednesday we have a turnover circuit,” McKelvey said. “We strip the ball, we do the fumble recovery, we do knock the ball out of the quarterback’s hands; its just little things like that causes us to want to do it on Saturdays. It transfers over to the game.”

The defense’s well-timed turnovers and an 88-yard scoring drive by the Marshall offense, which culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Chase Litton to tight end Emmanuel Byrd allowed the Herd to head into halftime tied 7-7, despite being outgained 319-202.

Middle Tennessee State built a 10-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, outscoring the Herd 10-0 in the third.

The Herd defense forced three-and-outs on three of Middle Tennessee State’s four fourth quarter possessions affording Litton, who completed 34 of his 56 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, and the offense time to mount a comeback.

The offense made up the deficit, tying the game 17-17 with 1:06 remaining after Litton threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Yuracheck, who caught six passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.

“We threw the same route the week before on Charlotte,” Litton said, “and this time, I threw it a little under him and (the defensive back) was playing good defense. As soon as he turned his head Check does what Check does and went over top of him and made a play.”

After a three-and-out by the defense, a 21-yard pass play from Litton to wide receiver Davonte Allen and a personal foul penalty by the Blue Raiders, Smith had a 32-yard field goal attempt to win the game in regulation, but missed wide left sending the game into extra sessions.

In the first overtime, the two teams traded touchdown passes with Litton hitting Allen for 19 yards up the sideline to answer the Blue Raiders’ opening score.

Awry field goal attempts by both teams marked the end of the second overtime period with Middle Tennessee’s Cody Clark missing a 31-yard attempt following Curraji’s 38-yard miss on Marshall’s possession.

Clark redeemed himself in the third overtime, connecting from 46 yards out. On Marshall’s subsequent possession, Litton’s pass to Allen came up a yard short on third down. After a false start penalty pushed the ball back to the Middle Tennessee State 21-yard line, Curraji’s kick was blocked as the Herd suffered its second loss of the season, snapping a seven-game winning streak.

“That’s football,” Litton said. “Things like that happen. Turnovers happen, missed field goals happen, penalties happen. That’s football, that’s what you signed up for.”

The Herd will be at home Saturday for Senior Day as it takes on Florida International University at 3:30 p.m.

Bradley Heltzel can be contacted at [email protected]