CANTON, Ohio – DeVonte Holloman dreamed about the moment all the way to the Hall of Fame Game. When it actually happened, he was too overwhelmed to perform the celebration he'd planned on.
The sixth-round draft selection returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of a 24-20 Cowboys victory against the Dolphins, providing one of Sunday's many game-changing defensive plays for a group led by two new minds in Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli who preach the importance of turnovers and sacks.
"They scream it during the play, before the play, before we go out there for a series," Holloman said. "When you get one, it's a big deal."
It's an even bigger deal to take it back to the house the way Holloman was able to in his first professional game, which featured the backups as the Cowboys elected to hold out the majority of their starters. Holloman never recorded an interception return for a touchdown in college, yet he still had a vision of a pick-six and a specific celebration before his Cowboys debut.
"I decided to celebrate with my teammates instead," Holloman said. "I might save it for later, so I won't spoil it here."
Holloman's pick on a tipped pass gave the Cowboys a 17-0 lead they would never relinquish. He broke on the route, secured the pick just inches off the ground and sprinted down the sideline. Only one Dolphins player was in position to take down the sixth-round pick, and Holloman wasn't going to let the quarterback stop him from reaching the end zone.
"I thought he was going to get me," Holloman said. "I was saying the whole time, 'Don't get me, don't get me, don't get me,' and he laid out and I happened to throw a stiff arm and got away. Just blessed to make that play."
It's the type of play the Cowboys brought in Kiffin and Marinelli for. All the defensive changes this offseason were made to create more pressure on the quarterback and to subsequently create more turnovers for a team with just 16 takeaways in 2012.
It only took one defensive snap for those hopes to come to fruition.
With the majority of the Cowboys' second-team defense on the field, Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempted to hand the ball off to starting running back Lamar Miller. The defensive pressure came on, the handoff was botched and Dallas defensive tackle Nick Hayden grabbed the loose ball to give the Cowboys possession inside the Dolphins' 10-yard line.
It may have just been one play in one game, and a preseason one at that, but it was a welcomed change from last season. In addition, the defensive rookies and backups didn't seem confused or befuddled playing for Kiffin, Marinelli and head coach Jason Garrett.
"Taking the ball away, it was critical," Garrett said. "Those are the big plays in the ballgame. Obviously, we got the ball on the 9-yard line going in after their first play. Then Holloman returns the other one for the touchdown. Huge plays in the ballgame."
The Dallas second-team defense thrived early in the game. The Dolphins, who fumbled three times but only lost one, didn't score a touchdown until 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys finished with three sacks, an interception and forced two turnovers on downs.
Two of those sacks came courtesy of George Selvie, who didn't even join the team until July 24. Garrett said he wasn't surprised with Selvie's effort, because he's seen it every day in practice.
The first sack pushed the Dolphins back 14 yards after Miami got inside the Cowboys' 10-yard line. Selvie brought down quarterback Matt Moore, and the Dolphins were forced to kick a field goal and head halftime trailing by 14. That play would be crucial in what would eventually be a four-point win for the Cowboys.
"He was rolling out, it was a boot, I stuck my foot in the ground and was like, 'Man, I've got to go out there and get him,'" Selvie said. "I thought he was going to try to throw it away, but he didn't."
Selvie and linebacker Taylor Reed, who led the team in tackles with nine, both recorded sacks in the game. Selvie, who just two weeks ago was without a team and sitting at home in Pensacola, Fla., pushed the Dolphins back a combined 20 yards with his two sacks.
"I'm grateful to have the chance," Selvie said. "A couple weeks ago, I was sitting at home. Being able to come out here and play at the Hall of Fame Game and have a good game, I'm blessed."
Selvie, Holloman and the defense helped the Cowboys look like a completely different group from the 2012 team, which relied on comeback wins and miracle finishes. Conversely, the Cowboys were able to pound the rock and create turnovers early in the game, then continue to run and play sound defense the rest of the way to preserve the victory.
The Cowboys rushed for 170 yards and had three running backs record at least one carry of 10 yards of more. Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar all averaged more than five yards per carry. The other running back on the roster, Kendial Lawrence, rushed for his first touchdown, which turned out to be the game-winner.
The quarterbacks didn't need to be active in this one. With Tony Romo out, Alex Tanney, Nick Stephens and Kyle Orton all got playing time. None of them threw a touchdown or an interception. Tim Benford led all receivers with three catches, while Jared Green's one 32-yard catch was enough to make him the team's leading receiver. [embedded_ad]
They did enough on the ground to allow the Cowboys' defense to play with a lead all game. With the majority of second-team defenders on the field, as well as starting linebacker Justin Durant, the first four Dolphins' series of the game resulted in a fumble, two punts and an interception. Durant said he never wanted to leave the field, but the Cowboys remained cautious with their starters.
It wasn't until the backups to the backups entered the contest that the Dolphins began mounting a comeback, but the third-team Cowboys defense was able to force a turnover on downs before the two-minute warning. A late Miami touchdown on a tipped fourth-down pass wasn't enough, as the Cowboys recovered an onside kick to wrap it up.
"I'm just excited," Durant said. "I see a lot of potential in the team. We were getting after the quarterback a lot, guys making plays all over the field. I'm excited."