Herd holds off Memphis
HUNTINGTON — It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Marshall University’s football team got a much-needed home victory Saturday afternoon in front of 22,041 spectators in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall nearly squandered a 24-point second-half lead, but got a timely sack from
Cortez Carter to end a comeback attempt by Memphis in the Thundering Herd’s 38-28 win.
“We found a way to win it, and that’s the important thing,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “It was sloppy at times, but I felt when they had to step up and make plays, Cortez made the play at the end of the game.”
Rakeem Cato finished the game 34 of 44 passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns, including the Herd’s biggest play — a 28-yard touchdown pass to Davonte Allen on fourth down that set the final score prior to Carter’s sack.
“It was a different play,” Cato said. “I kind of audibled there. The play was designed to go to (Tommy) Shuler, but they were doubling him. I saw that they were going to double him and I decided to take a shot.”
Allen was forced into action when Marshall deep threat Aaron Dobson was injured on the first play of the game. The redshirt freshman responded with four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Marshall (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) led 31-7 before Memphis scored 21 unanswered points to pull within three points with 9:56 left in the game.
After a 1-yard touchdown pass from Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam to Jesse Milleson made it 31-14, a Marshall unsportsmanlike conduct penalty placed the ball at the 50-yard line.
Memphis (1-8, 1-4) surprised Marshall with an onside kick, recovered it and cut the lead to 31-21 on Jai Steib’s 2-yard touchdown plunge with 13:10 left.
Holliday said the Herd was ready for it, but Memphis executed the play to perfection.
“He did a nice job with the onside kick,” Holliday said. “We had guys in position, but that was about as good of a kick as I’ve ever seen.”
After a three-and-out by Marshall, the Tigers executed a fake punt to perfection as punter Tom Hornsey hit Bobby McCain for 61 yards with the Herd in an all-out rush. Two plays later, Steib fumbled into the end zone and tackle Jordan Devey recovered for a touchdown that cut the lead to three.
In all, it was a stretch of 33 plays where Memphis’ offense was on the field for 29 and the Herd offense was forced to sit back as the Tigers rattled off 21 straight points over a 13-minute stretch.
“It was very frustrating,” Cato said. “I was eager to get back on the field and try to make something happen for the team. I had to be patient on the sideline and when my number was called, I made the play.”
Marshall built its lead in the third quarter after running 15 consecutive offensive plays on two drives following a recovery on a squib kick that bounced off a Tiger and Cato connected with Demetrius Evans on a 25-yard scoring play.
Seven plays later, the lead stood at 24 when fullback Devon Johnson scored the first touchdown of his career, a 9-yard pass from Cato with 7:39 left in the third quarter.
Marshall took a 17-7 lead into the locker room after a bizarre play to end the first half.
Memphis was deep inside Marshall territory, but quarterback Jacob Karam tried to pitch the ball backward in the direction of an offensive lineman to avoid being sacked. The ball bounded around on the turf until Marshall’s Deon Meadows picked it up near midfield.
However, he was hit from behind and also lost possession with Memphis recovering.
The Tigers tried to call timeout, but did not have any, resulting in a delay of game penalty. By rule, Marshall could take the option of running off 10 seconds, which ended the half because only eight seconds remained when the penalty occurred.
It was the most entertaining part of a relatively uneventful first half of play.
Marshall’s defense played well in the first quarter, limiting Memphis to just 43 yards as the Herd jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
Gator Hoskins capped a 7-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown catch — his ninth of the season — for the game’s first score.
After the Herd forced a Memphis punt, Justin Haig drilled a 41-yard field goal to forge the 10-point advantage.
Memphis got on the board on a 5-yard touchdown run by Steib, capping a 14-play, 49-yard drive in which the Tigers converted a pair of fourth downs on the drive.
However, Cato answered the Memphis score by going 7-of-7 on the next Herd possession. Remi Watson dove in from four yards out to set the halftime score. Watson’s four yards were part of just 25 rushing in the opening half. The Herd finished with only 92 yards rushing in the game.
“Against that defense, running the football — it’s kind of hit and miss,” Holliday said. “You’re going to get some negative plays because of what they do, then all of a sudden, you’ll pop a couple big ones.”
The 71 plays that Marshall ran was a low for the season, but the Herd offense did not turn the ball over any. Marshall finished with 433 yards of total offense.
Karam completed 21 of 31 yards and 170 yards and a touchdown as Memphis dropped its fourth consecutive game.
Marshall hits the road to Birmingham, Ala., next weekend to take on UAB in a 4:30 p.m., Saturday, game at Legion Field.