Tulsa spoils Herd Homecoming
HUNTINGTON -- Unfortunately for Marshall University football, the Homecoming script happened to be one they've seen previously this season.
Marshall battled back-and-forth with Tulsa in a classic Conference USA affair Saturday, but in the end the Golden Hurricane made a few more plays to spoil Homecoming 2012 with a 45-38 win over the Thundering Herd in front of 27,189 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The loss drops Marshall to 2-4 for the season, 1-1 in C-USA and 18-4 all-time in Homecoming contests at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Leslie Thomas was crowned as Miss Marshall 2012 at halftime.
Missed opportunities plagued the Thundering Herd once again down the stretch. Marshall had its chances in the fourth quarter with its final two drives ending inside the Tulsa red zone.
"When your number is called, you have to make a play and we just didn't get it done unfortunately," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "We put ourselves in position there at the end to get that thing into overtime or go win it and we didn't do it."
Tulsa (5-1, 3-0) clinched the game when Demarco Nelson batted down Rakeem Cato's fourth-down pass to Antavious Wilson in the end zone.
"We just have to find some way to win the ball game," Cato said. "That's just plain and simple. We have to win. It's just getting over that hump. There are some people over here and some people over there. We just have to come together and get over that hump together."
Tulsa's winning score came on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Cody Green to Jordan James with 8:25 left after a critical third-down conversion when Green hit Keyarris Garrett with a 48-yard pass.
On the play, the Herd brought a blitz and Green connected with Garrett, who broke a pair of tackles and took the ball deep into Marshall territory. The play accounted for more than half of Green's yardage through the air. He finished 9 of 17 for 90 yards and the score to James.
"That play especially hurt," Marshall safety Okechukwu Okoroha said. "We just have to make the play. We have to at least get him down when it happens."
Marshall trailed for the majority of the contest, but took a 38-37 lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Antavious Wilson, who made seven catches for 123 yards.
Cato was 31 of 44 for 391 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
For the game, Marshall outgained Tulsa 572-340 while running 20 more plays than the Golden Hurricane.
"To come into a good football team's house and steal a win from them on Homecoming on all the emotion and all the stuff they had, it doesn't matter if it's ugly," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said.
The third quarter proved to be the Herd's undoing. Tulsa scored 20 points in the quarter in every way possible as breakdowns hurt Marshall.
Tulsa broke a 17-17 halftime tie on Alex Singleton's third touchdown run of the game.
Just 16 seconds later, the lead ballooned to two scores when Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson fumbled a screen pass into the arms of Dwight Dobbins, who returned it 11 yards for a touchdown. The subsequent PAT snap was bad and Marshall's D.J. Hunter returned it for a two-point conversion to make it 30-19.
Marshall got back within 30-25 on Remi Watson's 1-yard touchdown run with 5:20 left, but the lead immediately jumped back to 12 points when Trey Watts returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a score. Watts finished with 111 yards rushing to lead a Tulsa attack that went for 250 yards on 53 carries.
After trailing by two touchdowns and looking physically overmatched early, Marshall knotted the game 17-17 at halftime with a pair of touchdowns within 90 seconds of each other.
The Herd trailed 17-3 and faced a critical third-and-13 in its own territory, but Cato avoided a rush and connected with Antavious Wilson on a 28-yard pass along the sideline to continue the drive. Four plays later, Kevin Grooms took it in on a 7-yard run to cut the lead in half.
Nelson of the Golden Hurricane fumbled the subsequent kickoff into the arms of Okoroha, giving the Herd possession at the Golden Hurricane's 28-yard line.
After a 22-yard run by Grooms put the Herd close, a false start penalty forced the Herd into a long third-and-goal. Once again, Cato and Wilson connected -- this time on an 11-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
It was a quick turn of events for the Herd after Tulsa had taken a 17-3 lead behind its strong rushing attack.
Tulsa came into the game with C-USA's top rushing attack and proved why in the first half, rushing 31 times for 189 yards.
"We were physical enough," Blankenship said. "That was one of the things about rushing the football. I felt like we could do that and hopefully, take a toll on the defense."
To end the first half, the Golden Hurricane ran the ball on 27 of their final 30 plays.
Both Tulsa touchdown drives included just one pass in each. The first was an 8-play, 80-yard drive capped when the 260-pound Singleton busted through the line untouched on a fourth-and-1 for a 48-yard score.
The next drive, early in the second quarter, ended with Singleton going over the goal line from four yards out on a grueling 16-play, 63-yard drive that ate up 7:30 off the clock and gave Tulsa the 14-point cushion.
Marshall avoided a huge hole early after giving the ball away on its first two possessions.
Gator Hoskins fumbled following a 12-yard reception. The fumble resulted in a 37-yard field goal by Daniel Schwarz. On the next drive, Cato was intercepted by Lowell Rose but the Marshall defense forced a three-and-out and subsequent punt to avoid the two miscues virtually unscathed.
Hoskins added a 72-yard touchdown catch from Cato in the third period to give him seven touchdown receptions for the season. He caught four passes for 89 yards.
Dobson and Wilson had 100-yard receiving days -- Dobson with 10 for 128 and Wilson with seven for 123 and two scores.
Marshall looks to regroup with the next week off before before an Oct. 20 game at Southern Miss.