For three quarters, the Marshall Buffalos and the College Station Cougars raced up and down the field, scoring from almost any spot on the field.
When the fourth quarter started with the Cougars holding a 35-34 lead, however, they implemented a sure-fire plan to stop the Buffalos. They kept the Buffalo offense on the sidelines for 10 minutes of the 12-minute quarter, and moved on to the state semifinals by winning the Class 5A Region 3 Division 2 finals 49-47 at Waller Stadium last Saturday.
With 1:37 to go in the third quarter, the Cougars took possession of the ball on an interception by Brandon Joseph. Then, exploiting a weakness in the middle of the Buffalos’ defense that they had discovered while studying film the week before the game, the Cougars ran quarterback Marquez Perez up the middle five times in a row as they moved from their 40 yard line to the Buffalos 21 yard line. Perez then threw an incomplete pass before running back DaDa Anderson carried the ball to the 7 yard line. From there, Perez ran three more times before scoring to give the Cougars a 42-34 lead with 7:42 to go.
“We knew during the week that we could take advantage of the middle of the line. We have a big strong offensive line. We knew we were bigger than them, so we just tried to hit the middle every time. We ran a few outside just to confuse them, but we just kept running up the middle,” Perez said.
Marshall, refusing to give up, took just two plays to score as Devon Achane ran 67 yards for a touchdown. The Buffalos failed on a 2-point conversion and College Station led 42-40 with 7:02 to go.
Starting at their own 37-yard line, the Cougars ran down the clock as Perez ran up the middle nine times and Anderson outside four times, as they moved the ball to the Marshall 7 yard line. With a fourth down and goal and 1:40 remaining, Perez faked a run up the middle and tossed the ball to Brandon Williams to give the Cougars a 49-40 lead.
“I was a little surprised when they called the pass play,” Williams said. “I knew they (Marshall) were biting down really hard because we kept running the ball. I knew we might call a pass eventually. I think they just blitzed everybody and left me all alone.”
Marshall was able to score with 10 seconds to go when Henry James caught a 25-yard pass from Jabari James to make the score 49-47, but the Cougars recovered the onside kick to end the game.
In the fourth quarter, Perez ran the ball 17 times and Anderson had five carries as the Cougars controlled the clock and the game. For the game, Perez rushed for 147 yards on 35 carries and scored five touchdowns. He also completed 7 of 15 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. After the game, Perez admitted he was tired.
“I am really exhausted. I can’t wait to get on the bus and relax, but I am excited about playing next week,” Perez said.
Anderson rushed 16 times for 115 yards and one touchdown.
“When I saw an opening in the line, I just hit it. Coach had told me that in the game, the holes are going to close quick, so I just hit the hole fast,” Anderson said. “We are a second half team. We had a talk in the locker room at halftime, and got everything straightened out and all. We just did what we had to do.”
Marshall was led by Jabari James who completed 11 of 21 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. Henry Thomas caught three passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Devon Achane rushed eight times for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and Jerry Gray had 86 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
Marshall, who lost to College Station last year in the region finals, ended its season with 10 wins and 3 losses.
College Station improved its record to 12-2 and will face undefeated Austin McCallum on Saturday at NRG Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling. I think it will take the ride home before it really sinks in. To go five rounds deep in the playoffs again, I am just really, really proud of our kids,” College Station head coach Steve Huff said.