By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall’s receivers couldn’t catch the ball. The defenders couldn’t catch ball carriers. No one could catch Quincy McDuffie.
And in the end, Marshall never could catch Central Florida.
The Knights put an emphatic stamp on their dominance of the Thundering Herd Saturday, winning 54-17 to retain control of the race for Conference USA’s East Division championship.
UCF (6-2, 4-0) is leaving the conference for the Big East after this season, and left one last reminder of which team has owned this series. Both teams joined C-USA in 2005, and the Knights won all eight games between the two since then.
This one was as decisive as any.
Things started well enough for the Herd, at least defensively. Derrick Thomas intercepted quarterback Blake Bortles on UCF’s first offensive play, right after the Herd opened with a three-and-out that started with a dropped pass — a theme of the night.
The pick by Thomas gave Marshall a second chance, but this time the drive resulted in a turnover on downs thanks to four straight incomplete passes. On the fourth, Aaron Dobson was guarded closely by UCF cornerback A.J. Bouye, and the crowd booed loudly when pass interference was not called.
Justin Haig eventually gave the Herd a 3-0 lead on a 43-yard field goal with 7:47 left in the first quarter.
But just like the defense’s success, that lead was short-lived.
McDuffie answered Haig’s field goal with a 97-yard kickoff return to put the Knights ahead 7-3. It was McDuffie’s fifth career kick return for a touchdown — but he wasn’t finished.
Marshall (3-5, 2-2) scored its first touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Rakeem Cato to Antavious Wilson with 26 seconds left in the first half. After taking a knee to close the half, UCF was set to receive the opening kick of the third quarter.
McDuffie did it again, returning the kick 98 yards for his second return TD of the game. It was the first time UCF had two kicks returned for touchdowns in its football history.
A week after rushing for a career-high 192 yards at Memphis, UCF running back Latavius Murray had another big night. He ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns, including scores of 75 and 42 yards, and had a 20-yard touchdown catch that put the Knights up 40-10 in the third quarter and sent most of the announced crowd of 22,563 to the exits.
It was the first four-touchdown game of Murray’s career.
The Knights’ 54 points is the most scored by an opponent at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which opened in 1991.
Cato completed 35 of 62 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Gator Hoskins had a 1-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Marshall was held to 66 yards on 36 carries, an average of 1.8 yards per carry.
Their goal of winning a division title now severely hampered, the Herd will now have to focus on reaching a six-win season. They will try to get back on track next Saturday at home against Memphis. Kickoff will be 2 p.m. and the game will not be televised.
Note: Marshall’s 1992 Division I-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) national championship team, including Beckley native and resident Chris Grose, lined up along the north goal line to be recognized between the first and second quarters. Among others present were Brad Lambert, an assistant coach on the team who now is the head coach at Charlotte; Phil Ratliff, who is now Lambert’s recruiting coordinator; and Willy Merrick, the soccer player who kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Youngstwon State 31-28 in the championship game.
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