Tulsa wins back-and-forth contest
HUNTINGTON — Unfortunately for Marshall University, it was the same story that has been told on several occasions this season.
Marshall battled back-and-forth with Tulsa in a classic Conference USA football affair Saturday, but in the end the Golden Hurricane spoiled Homecoming 2012 with a 45-38 win over the Thundering Herd in front of 27,189 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Golden Hurricane clinched the game when Demarco Nelson batted down Rakeem Cato’s fourth-down pass to Antavious Wilson in the end zone.
The loss drops Marshall to 2-4 on the season and 18-4 all-time in Homecoming contests at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Leslie Thomas was crowned as Miss Marshall 2012 at halftime.
Marshall had its chances in the fourth quarter with its final two drives ending inside the Tulsa red zone.
Tulsa’s game-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 on a 48-yard pass.
On the play, the Thundering 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.
The Herd trailed for the majority of the contest, but took a 38-37 lead with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Rakeem Cato to Antavious Wilson, who finished with seven catches for 123 yards.
Cato finished the contest 31 of 44 for 391 and three touchdowns with one interception.
The third quarter proved to be the Herd’s undoing. Tulsa put up 20 points in the quarter, scoring in every way possible.
Tulsa broke a halftime tie on Alex Singleton’s third touchdown run of the game, which capped a 13-play, 69-yard drive.
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 rushing 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.
Tulsa’s Marco Nelson fumbled the subsequent kickoff into the arms of Marshall’s Okechukwu 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 a long third-and-goal situation. 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 Conference USA’s top rushing attack and proved why in the first half, rushing 31 times for 189 yards.
To end the 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 260-pound running back Alex Singleton busted through the line untouched on a fourth-and-1 for a 48-yard score.
The next drive also 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 when turnovers plagued the team on the second play of each of 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.