Late surge lifts Herd, 45-34
By GRANT TRAYLOR
TULSA, Okla. — Marshall University’s football team was in a tailspin in the second half Thursday night and Thundering Herd players looked to the heavens in search of what they needed to do.
Playing on the anniversary of the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash and with 75 victims of the tragedy as motivation, the Herd got headed back in the right direction and pulled out a victory.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato hit Tommy Shuler with an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Marshall the lead and Ra’Shawde Myers sacked Tulsa’s Dane Evans on a 4th-and-11 late in a 45-34 victory in front of 16,723 spectators at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
“We just looked up in the sky and knew that all 75 people are looking down smiling at us,” Cato said. “We just wanted to do it all for them, no matter what the stats (were). We just wanted to do it for them and make sure we come out of this game with the win.”
Thursday’s game represented the first time Marshall had played a road game since the plane crash.
Myers’ sack led to an Essray Taliaferro 1-yard touchdown run that capped the scoring before true freshman Tiquan Lang intercepted Evans on the next drive to give the Thundering Herd (7-3 season and 5-1 in Conference USA) its first-ever win over the Golden Hurricane (2-8, 1-5).
The Herd scored the final 14 points, which changed momentum like the teams changed fields on windy night.
It was Cato who provided the calming force late, spreading the ball around to receivers and pushing the team downfield for scores. The junior was 33 of 58 passing with a career-high 456 yards and five touchdowns.
“That’s where he’s matured so much, and you guys have seen him grow up in front of your own eyes as I have,” said Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. “There’s no doubt that as a freshman, he wouldn’t have handled that very well — even sometimes as a sophomore a year ago — but he’s matured and he’s grown up.”
After Marshall took a 17-point lead into the locker room at halftime the Herd fumbled the football four times in the second half. Tulsa scored 20 consecutive points to take a 34-31 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Carl Salazar.
Tulsa linebacker Shawn Jackson led the Golden Hurricane defensive charge with two fumble recoveries in the third quarter that led to 10 points during the swing.
The onslaught of Marshall turnovers began on the second play of the second half when Cato was sacked and fumbled. Tulsa recovered to set up 3-yard score by Evans. That started a string of four possessions when the Herd had three turnovers and an 18-yard punt, and Tulsa methodically got back into the contest.
Trey Watts’ 1-yard touchdown run brought the Golden Hurricane within 31-28 before Salazar’s first field goal of the day from 29 yards knotted the score, 31-31, with 4:43 left in the third.
It was a dramatic turn of events, considering the way Marshall started the game.
With the “75” decals on the side of its helmets representing the crash victims, Marshall followed a somber pre-game memorial for people who perished in the crash by dissecting the Tulsa defense and jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of play.
Cato found Shuler on a 28-yard score to open the scoring before going long to find Devon Smith on a 44-yard bomb after the Herd defense forced a Tulsa three-and-out.
Marshall’s defense got another stop as Tulsa struggled to move the ball in the wind, and Cato led an 11-play, 70-yard drive capped by Gator Hoskins’ 22-yard TD catch to make it 21-0 with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
It appeared the Herd would increase the lead, but Cato threw the first red zone interception of his career to Tulsa’s Shawn Jackson.
After the 21-0 start, the interception by Jackson didn’t seem big, but not putting the game away early loomed large over the Herd, who was forced to grind the game out late.
“That was critical,” Holliday said. “If you score there, you go up 28 and I think they took it down and scored.”
Tulsa turned the interception into momentum and scored the next 14 points.
Watts capped a 93-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge to get the Golden Hurricane on the board. Tulsa forced a punt before Evans found Thomas Roberson on a 27-yard TD pass that brought the Golden Hurricane back within a score.
“I felt like once the second quarter hit and we got a couple of scores — especially just one — it just seemed like the one that kind of broke the ice, then the look was different,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said.
However, the Herd answered as Steward Butler ripped off runs of 13, 10, 11 and 27 consecutively before Hoskins caught his second TD of the contest to push the lead to 28-14.
The Herd later tacked on a 31-yard field goal by Justin Haig following a Tulsa turnover. On the defensive play, Gary Thompson stripped receiver Jordan James and the ball landed in the arms of Neville Hewitt to set up the short field for the Herd.
The strength of Cato’s passing was his ability to spread the ball around to various receivers. Smith made seven catches for 114 yards and a score while Shuler ended the evening with nine catches and 105 yards and two scores. Hoskins also had six catches for 63 yards with the two touchdowns.
Marshall once again finds itself on the road next week as the team heads to Miami to take on FIU in a 6 p.m. contest on Nov. 23.
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