HUNTINGTON - At one point, all Vinny Curry could say after Marshall's 24-20 victory over Rice was, "Next question, please."The Thundering Herd's star defensive end is personable and passionate, which can get his emotions running. And he has had an emotional season off the field - for starters, Hurricane Irene deeply affected his home state of New Jersey with flooding.And this past week, he mourned the passing of his mother. She had been in failing health in recent weeks, and that is tough to take for a college student hundreds of miles away.When she died, Curry was allowed to leave school and the team, and return when he felt ready. He missed practice all week and returned Friday night, getting a warm welcome from his teammates.He had a long talk Friday night with his roommate, nose tackle Brandon Bullock. It helped, but he still had a very heavy heart going into Saturday. He did not participate with his team in the "Herd Walk" into Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and struggled with the decision to play."There was nobody in the world that was stronger than my mother," Curry said. "I was just trying to stay strong, stay positive. I know she would be proud of me, with everything else going on."She didn't want me to be sad in [game week], because this morning was a mess; I'm not going to lie to you all. I wasn't even going to play, I was an emotional wreck."Curry's aunt, his mother's sister, was on hand to watch one of the better efforts by a Marshall defensive end. Curry had nine tackles, four for loss, with 31/2 sacks, a fumble recovery and the forced fumble that gave Marshall the ball on the Rice 23-yard line and led to the game-winning touchdown.On that forced fumble, he dove over a blocker to get at Rice runner Sam McGuffie. On some plays, he simply pushed a tackle deep into the backfield to get where he needed to go.As he had two of his sacks in the first six minutes, he clearly was on a mission. His teammates noticed."What he's going through and [he still] came back, that's really tough," said Monterius Lovett, who recovered the Curry-forced fumble. "He played really big today." nn
Curry was passionate about his fumble recovery that nearly wasn't, one that could have led to a go-ahead touchdown much earlier in the fourth quarter.On that play, Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue went to pass, but the ball flew backwards out of his hands. In the scramble, Curry fell on the ball at the Rice 25-yard line, 29 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Curry got up to celebrate, and let go of the ball. That touched off another scramble, with Rice's Vance McDonald fighting for possession even further back. Based partly on Curry's lobbying, Herd's coach Doc Holliday challenged the call and won.Curry's recovery was restored.
"Coach Holliday, he knows I don't complain about much, and I was complaining about that call," Curry said.The challenge wasn't a small gamble, as Marshall was down 20-17 and already had used a second-half timeout."We just felt Vinny had possession of the ball at that point, and it was worth the challenge," Holliday said. "It was worth the timeout, if we lost it. We're fortunate we were right - unfortunately, we turned the ball over the next play."That the Herd did, as A.J. Graham's pass was tipped by a linebacker, richocheted off receiver Troy Evans and was plucked by Rice's Paul Porras.
Graham's slant pass to Antavious Wilson, the 11-yarder to the Rice 12 on the game-winning drive, was much better. Graham froze in the pocket for a split-second before firing a Byron Leftwich-style bullet to Wilson.Rice defender Corey Frazier was all but draped over Wilson until the ball arrived, it seemed.
"With 'zero' coverage [straight man-to-man], normally you don't let a guy inside of you like that," Graham said. "He was able to get inside and win, and I was able to make a play. It was a tight window." nn
Tyler Warner returned from a benching during the Louisville game two weeks ago for field-goal duties, hitting a 45-yarder to give Marshall a 17-6 halftime lead.The reason for Warner's return was simple: Justin Haig was injured and didn't practice this week. Haig retained kickoff duties after kicking for the first time Saturday morning.Haig didn't hold back, though. On the opening kickoff, he stuck 230-pound returner Jeremy Eddington with a big lick.Elsewhere on special teams, the Herd keeps getting closer to blocking a punt. Somebody got a hand on the last boot by Rice's Kyle Martens, but it still made it 34 yards downfield before dying.Marshall's punter, Kase Whitehead, averaged 40.1 yards on seven punts and put three inside the 20, but had one of his more dubious moments. He shanked a 23-yarder into the Marshall bench - and into a trash can on the fly. Fans in the chairback section gave the kick an ovation.Briefly Graham's first rushing touchdown ended a team drought that stretched to the Herd's 11th game last year, at SMU. The drought lasted 228 rushing attempts. Left tackle Ryan Tillman did not dress, giving sophomore Jordan Jeffries his first start of the season. "Tillman practiced Thursday, and I thought after practice he was fine, but he didn't play a snap," Holliday said.
Right tackle C.J. Wood missed eight plays over three different possessions after walking off with an injury, but returned with 4:53 left. Redshirt freshman Josh Lovett took over in his absence. When Rice needed to travel 75 yards in 1:49, it didn't have starting QB Taylor McHargue to do it. He was injured with 5-plus minutes left when he tried to duck a tackle by Kellen Harris and Devin Arrington.
Reserve Nick Fanuzzi completed his first pass on the last-ditch drive for 11 yards, but threw incomplete, got flushed out, got sacked and misfired on fourth down. The Herd's defense used a three-man front much of the first half, with a fourth linebacker often standing on the edge. Linebacker Billy Mitchell played that role on the first snap, earning his first start of the year. Marshall still hasn't lost a home game to a team from the state of Texas, a streak that has reached eight games. That started with the 1988 Division I-AA playoffs against North Texas, and has included Texas-El Paso twice, Rice twice, Southern Methodist twice and Houston once. Martin Ward and George Carpenter were added to the contingent of Herd captains to make six, though only four can go to the coin toss. Watching from afar were Ward and the injured Tillman. MU basketball great Russell Lee, a star on the Herd's great 1971-72 team, was honored at the first media timeout and given a letterman's jacket.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com