By GARY FAUBER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Rakeem Cato has his finger precisely on the pulse of why Marshall has only two wins this season.
“Nobody can stop us. We’re beating ourselves,” the sophomore quarterback said after Saturday’s 45-38 loss to Tulsa in front of a Homecoming crowd of 27,189.
With the exception of the season opener at West Virginia, the Thundering Herd have largely, as Cato said, beat themselves. They lost to Ohio when Cato threw a late interception, and Purdue had a pair of pick-sixes in beating the Herd last week.
Take away the interception, and it happened again versus Tulsa.
Trailing by seven and starting at the Tulsa 46-yard line, Marshall had 2:13 to try to tie the game. The drive started with a 9-yard completion to Antavious Wilson and a 17-yard catch by Aaron Dobson to move the Herd to the 20.
But things soured quickly. Marshall (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA) was faced with fourth-and-7 with 49 seconds to play. Cato tried to hit Wilson — who already had two touchdowns — in the end zone, but Demarco Nelson dived and batted the pass away for Marshall’s second turnover on downs in as many possessions.
On the previous drive, the Herd came away empty when Lowell Rose blanketed Dobson on a fade pass to Dobson on fourth down.
“At the end of the game, we’ve got to find a way to get it done,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “We had a couple opportunities ... and didn’t get it done. We’ve got to go back to work and get better.”
A 99-yard drive gave Marshall its only lead of the game. The series started after a 61-yard punt by Cole Way rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
On the first play, Cato hit Dobson for a 31-yard completion. Off sides and pass interference calls against the Golden Hurricane gave the Herd the ball at the Tulsa 46.
Cato was injured two plays later after being sacked by Shawn Jackson and had to sit out one play. Backup Blake Frohnapfel hit Kevin Grooms on a 12-yard screen pass for first down at the 35.
Cato came back and, three plays later, found Wilson for a 32-yard touchdown. Marshall failed on the two-point conversion try but led 38-37 with 10:59 to play.
But Tulsa reclaimed the lead on its next drive — and did so with quarterback Cody Green making his best three plays of the game.
Green, a Nebraska transfer who started for the Cornhuskers as a true freshman, was just 9 of 17 for 90 yards. But he had a 47-yard completion to Keyarris Garrett on the series, then finished it with a 4-yard touchdown to Jordan James.
Green then found Thomas Roberson on a play action pass for the 2-point conversion and 45-38 Hurricane lead with 8:25 to play.
Including Green, three Tulsa players who had been liabilities came up huge in crucial situations. Rose had been flagged for three pass interference penalties trying to cover Dobson, and Nelson’s fumble on a kickoff return led to a Marshall touchdown that tied the game at 17-17 right before halftime.
“At the end of the game,” said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, “they probably made some game-winning plays.”
With Green struggling, the Hurricane (5-1, 3-0) went with its running game — and found resounding success.
One singular moment told that story.
After Green was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 at the Marshall 48 in the first quarter, Tulsa opted to go for it. On a play that screamed quarterback sneak, Green instead handed off to Alex Singleton, a 6-foot-1, 260-pound tailback. Singleton went untouched not only through the line, but all the way to the end zone for a 10-3 lead.
“We had a guy who was not at the right gap at that point in time,” Holliday said. “That was disappointing.”
Singleton scored from four yards out on Tulsa’s next possession to make it 17-3. It capped a 16-play, 63-yard drive that featured eight runs by Singleton.
He also had a 2-yard scoring run in the third quarter, giving him five three-touchdown games in his career.
Tulsa ran 53 times for 250 yards. Trey Watts had a game-high 111 yards on 18 carries, while Singleton ran 16 times for 94 yards.
After Singleton’s third touchdown capped the first series of the second half and put the Hurricane up 24-17, a big series of events led to an entertaining third quarter.
Gator Hoskins was flagged for a personal foul after a 3-yard gain, pushing the Herd back to a second-and-21 at their 14.
Dobson then caught a short pass but lost the handle. Dwight Dobbins took the loose ball and returned it 11 yards for a 30-17 Tulsa lead.
The snap on the PAT attempt flew over the holder’s head. D.J. Hunter picked it up and took it to the end zone for two points, keeping the Herd within 30-19.
A 1-yard touchdown by Marshall’s Remi Watson made the score 30-25 — a 2-point conversion attempt failed — but Tulsa answered with Watts’ 95-yard kickoff return.
The next Herd drive went just three plays — Cato found Hoskins alone on the right sideline, and the tight end got a one-man convoy from Dobson on a 72-yard touchdown to make it a 37-32 game with 3:57 left in the third.
The game also had a momentum shift late in the second quarter when Marshall scored two touchdowns in about a minute and a half.
After Grooms’ 6-yard touchdown run made it a 17-10 game with 2:36 left, Nelson took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line. He was hit by freshman Devon Johnson and the ball popped out at the 23, where Boston College transfer Okechukwu Okoroha snagged it out of the air for Herd possession at the 28.
Three plays later, Cato hit Wilson in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to knot the game at 17-17 at 1:15.
The game got off to a brutal start for the Herd, who turned the ball over on the second play of each of their first two series. But the Hurricane could convert them to only a 36-yard field goal by Daniel Schwarz barely two minutes into the game.
Justin Haig’s 20-yard field goal tied it later in the first.
Marshall finished with 572 yards of total offense. Cato completed 31 of 44 passes for 391 yards and three TDs and an interception. Dobson had 10 catches for 128 yards, while Wilson grabbed seven for 123.
Grooms ran 16 times for 71 yards.
Marshall is off this week before traveling to Hattiesburg, Miss., Oct. 20 to take on Southern Miss. The game will kick at 7 p.m.
“Everybody’s got to come together and get over that hump together,” Cato said.
— E-mail: gfauber@