Marshall beats Houston, keeps bowl hopes
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s football team is still alive for bowl eligibility, but barely.
The Thundering Herd got a career-long 45-yard field goal by Justin Haig with seven seconds left to take a 44-41 win over Houston in front of 18,831 spectators Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Haig’s field goal came after Marshall got a third-down stop to force Houston into a game-tying field goal by Matt Hogan after the Cougars had battled back from a large deficit.
Marshall led, 38-17 with 2:29 left in the third quarter, but Houston scored 21 straight points behind quarterback Crawford Jones to knot the game 38-38.
Jones hit Deontay Greenberry on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 10:47 left in the game to set up the frantic finish.
It didn’t appear a tight finish was on the horizon as Marshall (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) took a 21-point lead late in the third following a 5-yard touchdown run by Rakeem Cato.
Cato finished the game 32 of 50 passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns as the Thundering Herd rolled up 665 yards of total offense.
Running back Kevin Grooms finished with a career-high 155 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Jones completed 31 of 44 passes for 316 yards and five touchdowns for Houston (4-7, 3-5), who was eliminated from being eligible for a bowl game.
Jones had three touchdown passes in a seven-minute stretch to knot the game. In addition to the pass from Grandberry, he hit Xavier Maxwell on a 58-yard bubble screen for a score after hitting Shane Ross for a 19-yard score late in the third quarter.
Ros’ touchdown catch came after a big kickoff return for the Cougars, who threw back across the field and caught the Herd outmanned after Marshall squibbed the kickoff.
Marshall’s offense clicked from the game’s onset, racking up 383 yards en route to a 31-10 halftime lead.
The most dynamic play came on its final drive of the first half when Cato scrambled out of pressure to keep a play alive before throwing a lateral to Grooms.
Grooms followed by making a first man miss, reversing field and essentially setting up his blockers down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown run.
Prior to that, Cato had found success both short and long. Following a pump-and-go, Cato finally found the deep ball he’s been looking for, hitting Davonte Allen on a 46-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-7 after Houston had gotten on the board with a 3-yard scoring pass from Jones to Ros.
Jones started for the Cougars in place of David Piland, the conference’s second-leading passer behind Cato. Piland missed practice earlier in the week because of a leg injury.
With Piland out, Houston had trouble moving the ball early in the contest. The Herd defense forced Houston to punt on its first five drives with four of those drives being three-and-outs.
The defensive presence enabled Marshall to jump out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Cato hit senior Antavious Wilson on a 19-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game — the first time Marshall has scored on the opening drive since the Ohio game on Sept. 15.
After a 23-yard field goal by Haig made it 10-0, Cato hit Tommy Shuler on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 9:11 left in the second quarter to make it a three-score game.
Shuler caught nine passes for 105 yards.
MU: Antavious Wilson 19-yard TD pass from Rakeem Cato (Justin Haig), 9:56. MU 7, HOU 0.
MU: Justin Haig 23-yard FG, 6:27. MU 10 HOU 0.
MU: Tommy Shuler 5-yard TD pass from Rakeem Cato (Justin Haig kick), 9:11. MU 17, HOU 0.
HOU: Shane Ros 3-yard TD pass from Crawford Jones (Matt Hogan kick), 6:08. MU 17, HOU 7.
MU: Davonte Allen 46-yard TD pass from Rakeem Cato (Justin Haig kick), 4:49. MU 24, HOU 7.
HOU: Matt Hogan 32-yard FG, 1:55. MU 24, HOU 10.
MU: Kevin Grooms 69-yard TD run (Justin Haig kick), 1:05. MU 31, HOU 10.
HOU: Xavier Maxwell 4-yard TD pass from Crawford Jones (Matt Hogan kick), 6:47. MU 31, HOU 17.
MU: Rakeem Cato 5-yard TD run (Justin Haig kick0, 2:29. MU 38, HOU 17.
HOU: Shane Ros 19-yard TD pass from Crawford Jones (Matt Hogan kick), 2:12. MU 38, HOU 24.
HOU: Xavier Maxwell 58-yard TD pass from Crawford Jones (Matt Hogan kick), 14:38. MU 38, HOU 31.
HOU: Deontay Greenberry 7-yard pass from Crawford Jones (Matt Hogan kick), 10:47. HOU 38, MU 38.
MU: Justin Haig 26-yard FG, 5:44. MU 41, HOU 38.
HOU: Matt Hogan 28-yard FG, 1:18. HOU 41, MU 41.
MU: Justin Haig 45-yard FG, :07. MU 44, HOU 41.