ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Freshman Chase Litton had a helping hand in leading Marshall to a third straight 10-plus win season.
Litton completed 23 of 34 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown as Marshall beat Connecticut 16-10 in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Saturday.
“He’s had some growing pains, but he’ll tell you that,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said of Litton. “He’s not even close to where he’s going to be.”
Nick Smith had three field goals for Marshall (10-3), including a 32-yarder with 1:44 left that was part of a 13-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 6:35. The Thundering Herd went 13-1 a year ago and 10-4 in 2013.
“It’s a credit to these guys and to this program and coaching staff,” Holliday said. “That’s hard to do. It was one of our goals.”
Marshall is 4-0 in bowl games under Holliday, including a 20-10 victory over Florida International in the 2011 St. Petersburg Bowl. The Thundering Herd won the Boca Raton Bowl in 2014 and Military Bowl two years ago.
Holliday is 50-28 at Marshall.
Keion Davis got all of his 73 yards rushing on 10 carries during the Thundering Herd’s final scoring drive..
Bryant Shirreffs completed 10 of 17 passes for 86 yards and gained 75 yards on 19 carries for UConn (6-7), which came up short in a bid to have a winning record for the first time since 2010.
“We just didn’t execute well enough to win the game, and that’s it,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said.
UConn stopped Marshall on fourth-and-2 at the 17 on the initial drive of the second half after the Thundering Herd opted to skip a field goal try that could have made it 16-7.
The Thundering Herd also failed to increase a 13-7 lead on their next possession when Smith missed a 43-yard field goal attempt with less than 3 minutes left in the third.
“The defense played their hearts out, and we had every opportunity to win the game and we didn’t,” Shirreffs said.
The Huskies got within 13-10 on Bobby Puyol’s 52-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the third.
Marshall took a 7-0 lead 7 minutes into the game when Litton, who went to high school in nearby Tampa, threw a 16-yard TD pass to Ryan Yurachek. Deandre Reaves’ 26-yard punt return set up Marshall at the UConn 20.
Reaves also had nine receptions for 88 yards.
“I was excited to be coming back to the place where I grew up, but I knew the focus was going to be on football and winning the game,” Litton said.
Connecticut tied it at 7 late in the first on an 8-yard run by Ron Johnson that completed a 13-play, 75-yard drive.
Marshall responded with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that concluded with Smith’s 21-yard field goal that gave the Thundering Herd a 10-7 advantage 8 minutes before halftime.
Smith made it 13-7 with a 29-yard field goal on the final play of the first half that finished off a 15-play, 85-yard drive.
Marshall was 11 for 17 on third-down conversions, and out-gained UConn 389-213. The Thundering Herd had the ball 34:42, compared to the Huskies 25:18.
UConn, which went 2-10 in its first season under Diaco, won three of its final four games to rebound from a slow start to reach the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Connecticut sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers got his eighth interception of the season, including six in the last five games, early in the fourth.