Herd comes back, loses
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- There's just something about Marshall and East Carolina football games that brings about the wildest finishes ever.
In a Friday game that featured more than 1,200 yards, East Carolina's Shane Carden scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to give the Pirates a 65-59 double-overtime win over Marshall in front of 46,317 spectators in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
That outcome followed Marshall winning at home last season in overtime, an overtime victory by the Pirates at home in 2008 and a 64-61 Thundering Herd double-overtime triumph at the 2001 GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
This defeat ended Marshall's season with a 5-7 overall record and 4-4 mark in Conference USA while eliminating the Herd from bowl game consideration with less than six wins.
"It's a shame it had to end this way but I thought our kids fought hard," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get where we've got to go."
Prior to Carden's game-winning run, Marshall running back Essray Taliaferro fumbled on the Herd's possession in the second overtime.
It ruined a terrific game for Taliaferro, who led Marshall with 130 yards rushing on 27 carries.
"It's unfortunate that he turned the ball over at the end because he played his tail off," Holliday said. "It came down to one turnover and unfortunately, it was us."
Taliaferro played extensively because of injuries to Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler. He was one of several Marshall players that stepped up in the clutch without having many reps.
Another was Marshall backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who came in late in the third quarter when starter Rakeem Cato injured his knee.
Frohnapfel finished 12 of 15 passing for 101 yards and a touchdown and added a 51-yard scoring run.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first extra session with ECU striking first on a 25-yard pass from Carden to Andrew Bodenheimer on the first play of overtime.
After getting a fourth-down conversion, Frohnapfel hit Antavious Wilson on a 4-yard touchdown pass to force the second overtime.
The overtimes came after a wild fourth-quarter finish.
Marshall was literally one play away from going to a bowl on two separate occasions on the Pirates' final drive of regulation.
After Taliaferro scored on a 1-yard run with 1:55 left to make it 52-45 Marshall, ECU faced dire straits with a fourth-and-10 from its own 23-yard line.
Carden stepped into a throw and hit Justin Hardy on a 19-yard reception to keep the drive alive. Hardy followed with receptions of 19 and 17 yards before East Carolina knotted the game on Danny Webster's 6-yard touchdown catch with four seconds left in regulation.
Carden completed 38 of 47 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for three scores. Hardy caught an East Carolina record 16 passes for 171 yards.
Marshall took a 45-42 lead with 11:12 left following Frohnapfel's 51-yard touchdown run.
It came on the second drive after he replaced Cato, who hit on 31 of 40 throws for 318 yards and five touchdowns in just two-and-a-half quarters of play.
Cato came back for one play to start the fourth quarter with Marshall inside the East Carolina 10, but his pass fell incomplete as he threw off his back foot and the Herd settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 42-38 on Justin Haig's 24-yard kick.
It was Cato's final pass attempt of the season.
"He just couldn't move well enough to get himself out of trouble," Holliday said.
Prior to the knee injury, Cato led a masterful comeback which saw the Herd rebound from a 21-point deficit early in the second quarter to knot the game, 35-35, on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Wilson on the first drive of the second half.
Two of Cato's touchdown passes went to wide receiver Tommy Shuler, who broke Mike Barber's single-season record for receptions in a season during his 14-catch, 141-yard, two-touchdown performance. Shuler's 110 receptions surpassed Barber's mark of 106 in 1987.
Shuler's first touchdown was a 24-yard pass from Cato after East Carolina took a 28-7 lead with 12:10 left in the second quarter on quarterback Shane Carden's 3-yard touchdown run.
At that point, it looked as though the Pirates would end Marshall's season easily, but the Herd kept clawing.
A pivotal play in the first half occurred with just more than two minutes remaining before the break. East Carolina went for it on fourth-and-1 and was stuffed for a loss, giving the Herd possession.
Marshall scored on a 19-yard pass from Cato to Shuler to cut the halftime deficit to 35-28.
"We were down 28-7 and I told Cato on the sidelines, just find me. I'm going to make a way," Shuler said. "I didn't want the seniors to go out that way."
In addition to Shuler, Antavious Wilson ended his Marshall career with a strong outing. He caught seven passes for 43 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite being hobbled a bit, senior receiver Aaron Dobson returned to the lineup to catch four passes for 61 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown that opened the scoring with 10:11 left in the first quarter.
Following that play, ECU ripped off 28 unanswered points to take its biggest lead.
The Pirates got a 59-yard touchdown pass from Carden to Jabril Soloman to knot the game just 65 seconds after Dobson's catch and followed by forcing a three-and-out.
Carden followed with the first of three touchdown runs, a 1-yard plunge to give ECU a 14-7 lead at the end of one quarter.
The ensuing drive saw a pass from Cato deflected by big nose tackle Terry Williams and intercepted by Michael Brooks. Six plays later, Vintavious Cooper scored on a 9-yard run to increase the lead.
Williams then had a big hand -- literally -- in pushing the score to 28-7. The 6-foot-1, 327-pound nose tackle raced up the middle on a Marshall punt and blocked Tyler Williams' attempt to give ECU possession at Marshall's 18.
Carden capped the 4-yard drive with a 3-yard scoring run to push the lead to 28-7 before Marshall's comeback began.
East Carolina (8-4, 7-1) awaits the outcome of Saturday's matchup between UCF and UAB to find out whether it will play in the C-USA Championship Game.