Critical plays on 4th down decide it
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall generated 403 passing yards Saturday against Tulsa. Not a surprise, because the Thundering Herd leads Conference USA in passing and total offense.
What Thundering Herd and Golden Hurricane fans in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium crowd will remember, though, are the final two passes of the see-saw game. Tulsa defenders Lowell Rose and Demarco Nelson knocked away fourth-down attempts each time to preserve a 45-38 win.
Rose anticipated Marshall would come his way and guessed right. Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato tried to find 6-foot-3 wideout Aaron Dobson in the left corner of the end zone on a 4th-and-5 at the Golden Hurricane's 17 with 3:32 to play, but this time the 6-1 Rose batted the ball away. He'd been flagged for pass interference three times earlier in the game.
"I felt they'd challenge me," Rose said. "I should've turned on the ball. He's a great receiver. Fortunately I tipped it."
After a Tulsa punt, the Herd had another shot with 2:13 left. Cato moved the Herd from the Tulsa 46 to the 17 where on fourth down, Nelson moved in to knock down a ball intended for an open Antavious Wilson in the end zone with 44 seconds to play.
"They're two great receivers," Nelson said of Dobson and Wilson, who combined for 17 catches, 251 yards and two scores. "I just made a break on the ball. It's all about technique. The coaches do a great job. We know how we want to play it. It's really big to come in here and win."
Tulsa (5-1, 3-0 C-USA West) is 4-0 all-time against Marshall (2-3, 1-1 C-USA East). The Golden Hurricane extended their league road win streak to seven.
"At the end they probably made the game-winning plays," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said of Rose and Nelson. "They had us on our heels. We had our hands full."
Trey Watts, son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, pushed Tulsa's lead to 37-25 when he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with 5:04 left in the third period. It's his career long, beating by a yard the TD he had last year against UTEP.
The Herd bounced back with two scores to go ahead, 38-37, but quarterback Cody Green, after a play fake, hooked up with a wide-open Jordan James in the back of the end zone to put Tulsa ahead to stay with 8:25 to go.
Then Watts watched the drama unfold down the stretch.
"I have so much faith in our team," Watts said. "Everybody (on the sideline) was standing up, cheering for the defense. We're resilient. We don't give up. We feel we can win. That's a testament to our team. Make the stops on defense and make enough plays on offense."
Watts had been battling an ankle injury, but had enough Saturday to rush for a team-high 111 yards on 18 carries and return three kickoffs for 144 yards to give him career-best 255 total yards. The junior went over 100 yards for the second time this season. He previous 100-yarder was a 125-yard effort against Iowa State in the season opener.
"It was healthy enough to be a factor today for the team" Watts said. "The guys in the locker room are excited. We're exhausted, too. We're ready to get home."
Tulsa has a short week as its next game is Thursday night at home against UTEP. Fox Sports Network will air the game live.
Tulsa's Alex Singleton carried 16 times for 94 yards and three scores. He's rushed for three scores three times this season and five games in his career. One of his touchdowns Saturday was a career-best 48-yarder.