MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- — Kevin Marks looked like a super sub early, stalled against a stingy defense and then delivered the decisive blow.
Marks scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left after a clock-eating drive and Buffalo made a final defensive stop to beat Marshall 17-10 in the Camellia Bowl on Friday.
Subbing for the national leader in rushing yards per game, Jaret Patterson, Marks carried 35 time for 138 yards for the Bulls (6-1) against one of the nation's top run defenses.
Buffalo milked more than six minutes off the clock on the final 13-play, 88-yard drive. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease took a knee on first down and coach Lance Leipold even considered calling for a second one for a team that had only made its first field goal of the season in the first half.
“Obviously. we needed every second we could get there toward the end,” Leipold said.
Grant Wells then took Marshall (7-3), which had rallied from a 10-0 deficit, to the Buffalo 20 with no timeouts. Kadofi Wright's sack helped force a fourth-and-11 and Eric Black added his second sack to end the threat.
Both teams lost their conference championship games.
Buffalo improved to 2/3 in bowls, also beating Charlotte in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl. The Thundering Herd dropped their final three games after a 7-0 start and No. 15 ranking.
“We just didn’t make enough plays offensively the last three weeks,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.
The matchup between the nation's top rushing team and the No. 2 run defense lost some of its luster even before kickoff.
Patterson, who had 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns in six games, didn't dress out after sustaining a right knee injury in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. He served as a cheerleader on the sideline.
“We thought it would be best for his future,” James Patterson, Buffalo's linebacker and Jaret's brother, said of the prolific runner's decision not to play. "That’s all that went into it. Nothing else.”
Marks had 23 carries for 117 yards by halftime, though he was mostly shut down in the second half by a defense giving up just 88.9 rushing yards a game coming in. Marks said he found out he would be starting “at the end of the week.” He wasn't surprised yards were hard to come by.
“It was all about patience,” he said. “With a good defense like that you have to take what they give you.”
The Thundering Herd still held Buffalo to 155 rushing yards, half of its own average.
Marshall tied it on Shane Ciucci's 21-yard field goal with 8:48 left in the third quarter, and that's where the score stood until Marks' touchdown.
Like Buffalo, Marshall wasn't at full strength. Leading rusher Brenden Knox, C-USA defensive player of the year Tavante Beckett and starting right tackle Josh Ball opted out of the game. Beckett was one of three defensive starters missing.
It was the first NCAA bowl game played on Christmas Day since 2003.
Marshall: The offense went nowhere early but the defense withstood early scoring threats to keep the game tight. Punter Robert Lefevre helped out with fourth-quarter punts of 59 and 61 yards.
Buffalo: Got zip out of two impressive drives to open the game. Alex McNulty missed a 34-yard field goal — falling to 0 of 3 on the season — and then the Bulls failed on a fourth-down try from the Marshall 25. ... McNulty made a 25-yarder in the second quarter.
Leipold gave receiver Jovany Ruiz a scholarship the night before the game, and Ruiz responded with seven catches for 61 yards. “It looked like a pretty good move,” the coach said.
Holliday wasn't interested in discussing his own future with a contract that expires on June 30. “I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “I’m trying to go see my family for a little bit. You know what I mean?”
Marshall: Wells returns after earning Conference USA freshman of the year honors to lead the offense. Most of the starting defenders return but Beckett was one of the program's top pass rushers.
Buffalo: Patterson and Vantrease are only juniors so Buffalo could get them back for another season. But three offensive line starters and three starting receivers are seniors and so is defensive end Malcolm Koonce, a two-time All-MAC selection.