ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For head coach Mike Bobo and the Colorado State football team, the third time was not the charm.
The Rams fell to the Marshall Thundering Herd, 31-28, despite nearly completing a fourth-quarter comeback. The loss in the New Mexico Bowl marks Bobo’s third defeat in a bowl game, the fourth consecutive for CSU in total.
Coming into the game looking to eradicate his bowl-game struggles, Bobo and the Rams were limited by inconsistent play on both sides of the ball. The offense endured two scoreless quarters while the defense looked lost for the opening portion of the game. The inability to string together consistent football is something the Rams are all too familiar with this year.
“It’s pretty much a microcosm of our season. Played pretty good at times and then giving up the big play, explosive plays for touchdowns,” Bobo said. “As a play caller, you’ve got to do a better job of not being one dimensional and I thought we were one dimensional tonight.”
Contrary to the final three quarters, offense did not come easy for either team in the opening 15 minutes. The game remained scoreless after the first stanza for just the second time in New Mexico Bowl history.
Following the quarter, though, both offenses awoke. Marshall quarterback Chase Litton connected with wide receiver Tyre Brady for a 76-yard score on their first offensive snap of the quarter. The play surpassed each team’s total yardage in the first quarter.
CSU answered the quick strike with a drive of polar opposite composition. The Rams put together a 15-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a Nick Stevens’ touchdown pass to Detrich Clark.
The two offenses built on the momentum as the Rams and Herd flip-flopped touchdowns for the remainder of the quarter. Keion Davis’ 65-yard touchdown rush in the latter portion of the half marked the Herd’s fourth play of 20-plus yards in the quarter and gave them a seven-point advantage at halftime.
Halftime adjustments from CSU’s defense seemed nonexistent as Marshall opened the scoring in the second half with a 90-yard touchdown run from Tyler King. The run set a record for the longest rush in New Mexico Bowl history, a mark previously held by former CSU running back Gartrell Johnson (2007).
The 14-second drive marked Marshall’s third scoring drive lasting less than one minute. Similar to last year’s thumping at the hands of Idaho, CSU’s defense consistently found itself chasing the back of Thundering Herd jerseys into the end zone on long touchdown conversions.
Despite appearing down and out, the Rams mounted a fourth-quarter comeback. Trailing by 17 entering the frame, Nick Stevens settled into a grove, eventually connecting with Detrich Clark on their first possession for his second score of the game.
After multiple defensive stops, the Stevens-led Rams marched down the field where the senior quarterback punched in his second rushing touchdown of the night from one yard out. A 17-point lead was trimmed to three in six minutes as the Rams’ hopes flourished.
“Honing in on our keys, (limiting) some of those explosive plays,” linebacker Evan Colorito said in regards to the defense’s improved play late. “It was minor changes we had to make. I think we put our heart all on the field and that was the difference when we made those key stops.”
After forcing Marshall to punt, though, the Rams were unable to finish the comeback effort, ultimately falling short on a fourth down attempt.
Wide receiver Tyre Brady stretched the Rams’ defense all evening long, finishing the contest with six receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown to earn the game’s Offensive MVP honors. The running back tandem of Keion Davis and Tyler King each surpassed the century mark thanks in large part to their long touchdown runs. Davis totaled 141 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, followed closely by King with 106 yards and a score.
In their final games at CSU, Nick Stevens and Michael Gallup were unable to settle into a grove. Stevens completed 25-of-52 attempts for 320 yards and two touchdowns. The signal caller consistently found himself under pressure as the Rams’ offensive line failed to slow down the Herd.
Gallup caught six passes for 68 yards, a stat line that would have looked much different had he and Stevens connected on any of a litany of deep balls. Olabisi Johnson backed up his record-setting performance in last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with another solid outing, leading the Rams in receptions (six) and yardage (119).
“I’ve got to hit Gallup on those shots, and I think it’s a different ballgame,” Stevens said. “There were a number of them that he was open and the protection was solid and I missed him.”
In regards to next season, Bobo is confident that another heartbreaking loss can positively affect him and his team.
“We’re still trying to learn how to win,” Bobo said. “But I do think our team put themselves out there every game this year. They put themselves out there and weren’t afraid of failing. It hurts, and it should hurt. But that’s what we’re going to build on, that feeling that we have and we will go back to work.”
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.