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Explosive freshman debut leads Rams football to victory

Colorado+State+University+No.+16+Brayden+Fowler-Nicolosi+prepares+to+throw+the+ball+down+the+field+at+the+military+appreciation+game+against+San+Diego+State+University+Nov.+12.+CSU+won+22-19.
Collegian | Lauren Mascardo
Colorado State University No. 16 Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi prepares to throw the ball down the field at the military appreciation game against San Diego State University Nov. 12. CSU won 22-19.

Justin Marshall hadn’t seen a single snap all season. He hadn’t rushed for a single yard, he hadn’t gotten tackled and he certainly hadn’t accomplished a feat that hadn’t been touched in nearly 50 years.

That all changed in Colorado State’s 22-19 win over San Diego State. In Marshall’s debut for the Rams, he rushed for 119 yards, the first freshman to rush for more than 100 in their debut since 1974 when Ron Harris did it.

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Marshall was ready to execute from the start.

“I was really hyped to get in the game,” Marshall said. “I really couldn’t wait to get the ball and show y’all what I could do.”

After a difficult, injury-filled season from CSU’s rushing squad, a standout game from Marshall was a glimpse of hope into what could be the key to the Rams offense as the final two games of the season approach. The team needs to win both if they wish to be bowl-eligible.

Coach Jay Norvell had nothing but praise following Marshall’s performance.

“What can I say about Justin Marshall?” Norvell said. “I mean, kid that’s played in his very first game in college, and to have over 100 yards rushing is really a credit to that kid. What an accomplishment. … We needed somebody to give us an extra step, an extra burst and a little juice in our running game. I felt like we’re very close to making some big runs, and he just gave us a little something we haven’t had. (I’m) just really proud of him. I think he’s going to gain confidence from this performance, and we need it. We’re going to have to run the ball here these next two weeks to win, and he can help us do that.”

The Rams knew two things for certain coming into Saturday’s game: They needed to stop the Aztecs rushing game, and they would desperately need to improve on their third-quarter execution if they wanted to secure the win. 

Did they succeed? Well, kind of. 

The Rams held SDSU to 145 rushing yards, a crucial accomplishment for CSU’s defense, as the Aztecs have won 14 straight games when rushing for at least 200 yards. 

“That’s big; it’s important.” Norvell said. “It’s hard to do when you play these guys. These guys have been so good for so many years. (They’ve been) really good rushing the football.”

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The bad news? CSU’s third-quarter woes turned into full-blown second-half woes. 

After going scoreless and rushing for less than 50 yards in the first half, the Aztecs came into the third quarter ready to fight. They started their attack with a six-play, 71-yard drive that ended in a field goal after a crucial defensive stop by the Rams.

Offense and defense seemed to erode from that point on, with the Rams being outscored 19-7 throughout the rest of the game. After leading by as much as 19, the fourth quarter brought some much unwanted excitement for Norvell and the team.

On what looked to be a put-away drive for the Rams offense, a fumble by Vann Schield gave SDSU the ball with 8 minutes, 34 seconds left on the clock. The Aztecs marched down the field and made it a one-possession game after a touchdown. While the Rams were able to close it out with a victory, Norvell still wishes he had some opportunities back.

“I thought we had a couple chances offensively to kind of put some distance in between us and them, and we didn’t quite do that.” Norvell said.

It wasn’t CSU’s offense that brought the first points of the contest. Instead, the Rams’ first strike came at the hands of Mohamed Kamara, who brought down SDSU’s Jalen Mayden in the Aztecs’ own end zone for a safety. It was Kamara’s first ever and CSU’s first since Sept. 26, 2015, against UTSA

“It’s always great to defer (and have the) defense play first and stop them.” Kamara said. “I love to go out there first. The safety was just a bonus.”

While Kamara’s safety was certainly the highlight of the Rams defense, the sack was far from the extent of Kamara and crew’s dominance, especially in the first half.

Holding the Aztecs scoreless for the first half of the matchup, Kamara and crew kept SDSU to 273 total yards and racked up three sacks, resulting in a total of 21 defensive yards. 

While CSU’s offense did account for the rest of the program’s points, it certainly wasn’t as perfect as the Rams hoped it would be. Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi struggled to hit open targets all night, costing his offense precious easy yardage. Fowler-Nicolosi posted a 57% completion percentage, his second lowest of the season. 

“I thought Brayden played well,” Norvell said. “He missed a couple passes early. We had some guys in the first half (where) we really liked some of those plays, and he was just a little off. … But I thought he was smart with the ball: He protected the ball, (and) he (was) making good decisions.”

The Rams will play their last home game of the season against Nevada at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18.

Will Engle can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @willengle44.

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