Rakeem Cato completed 33-of-44 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns as the Marshall Thundering Herd held off a late charge from the Memphis Tigers and claimed a 38-28 Conference USA win, Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall (4-5, 2-2) led 31-7 in the third quarter before Memphis (1-8, 1-4) scored 21 unanswered to pull to within three at 31-28.
“The bottom line is our kids winning that football game,” said Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. “We found a way to win it. It was sloppy at times, but I felt that when they had to step up and make plays.
“Cortez (Carter) made the play at the end of the game. Offensively we were able to get in some 21 personnel there at the end, get a couple of first downs and put it away.”
The first play of the game had an adverse effect on the Thundering Herd. Cato completed a pass to Aaron Dobson in the left flat for a short gain, but Dobson, Marshall’s leading receiver, went down on the play and did not return to the game. It appeared on the video board replay that Dobson sustained a helmet-to-helmet blow at his own 17. He left the field under his own power.
According to Holliday his condition and status was unknown as of the post-game interviews.
Losing Dobson did not slow down the MU offense as Cato passed the team downfield, all the way to the Memphis 31 before his pass to Tommy Shuler on fourth and seven fell incomplete, turning the ball over to Memphis. In that opening drive Cato completed eight passes and the Herd ran the ball twice.
Memphis had a three-and-out, punting the ball with the Herd getting possession on its own 34. Cato and the Herd went back to work, this time mixing the run with the pass, driving to the Memphis one before Cato lofted the ball over the Memphis line to Gator Hoskins for the score. Justin Haig’s kick was true and Marshall was up 7-0.
After a Memphis possession ending in a punt, Marshal took over at its own 43. The Herd took the ball to the Memphis 24 before the drive stalled and Haig booted it through the pipes from 41 yards out to make it 10-0.
Marshall was playing an up-tempo game, no huddle, spread and moving at-will against the Tigers. Memphis, attempting to play a similar game early without success, changed things up on its next possession.
The Tigers took the ball at the Marshall 49 after a punt and then took the air out off the ball, to use a basketball term in football. The Tigers milked the play clock and used the run to move the 49 yards in 14 plays, culminating with a five yard run by Jai Steib for the score. Memphis took 7:19 off the second quarter clock.
Marshall came right back. Starting on its own 25 Cato passed the team down the field. Remi Watson’s four yard run made it 16-7 and Haig’s kick took it to 17-7 and that is where it stood at halftime.
Receiving the second half kickoff Memphis drove to the Marshall 11 before the Herd defense held and forced a field goal attempt.
Tyler Spurlock’s kick from 28 yards out was blocked and the Herd maintained its 10 point lead.
Marshall expanded its lead to 24-7 on Cato’s 25-yard strike to Demetrius Evans and later in the third, Richlands’ Devon Johnson, playing fullback for the Thundering Herd, caught a pass in the right flats and ran and leaped into the end zone from nine yards out for his first collegiate score. With the extra point MU went ahead 31-7.
“Cato is a smart quarterback,” Johnson said. “He saw me open and he hit me.”
Holliday said, “We had some young freshmen that came in and made some plays. Davonte Allen came in and made some big time catches. Devon Johnson, another freshman, came in, had his first touchdown catch. It was nice to see those two youngsters get their catches.”
Memphis came back.
Karam Jacob flicked a one yard pass to Jesse Millison, 31-14. Steib’s two yard run and the point after made it 31-21, Jordan Devey’s fumble recovery in the end zone and the PAT made it 31-28 with 9:56 to go in the game.
Steib had carried the ball to the one yard line from the two before he lost the pigskin and Devey plopped on it for the score.
Needing to put the game away, Marshall embarked on a 75-yard drive for its final score of the game. Cato passed the ball down the field and the score came when Cato hooked up with Davonte Allen from 28 yards out. Haig’s kick was Marshall’s final point of the game.
For the game Memphis held the statistical advantage in time of possession, 39:48 to 20:12 and rushing yards, 14-92.
Memphis was six-of-seven on fourth down conversions in the game.
Marshall rolled up 433 total yards while Memphis tallied 372 and neither quarterback threw an interception.
Wilson and Evans each has seven catches for the Herd.
“We’ve got to put our boots back on in the morning, go to work and go find a way to beat UAB next week,” Holliday said.