From staff and wire reports
For The Register-Herald
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato threw four touchdowns to help the Thundering Herd defeat Memphis 38-28 Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Cato, the nation’s leader in completions and passing yards, finished 34 of 44 for 341 yards. He completed passes to 11 wide receivers and connected with four different wideouts for touchdowns.
Antavious Wilson and Demetrius Evans each combined for a team-high seven catches, while Davonte Allen booked a team-leading 87 receiving yards.
Leading the NCAA in total receptions entering the game, wide receiver Tommy Shuler added five catches to his total and finished with 78 receiving yards.
Marshall’s three-headed ground game continued to share the load evenly. Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler each rushed seven times and totaled 47 and 35 yards, respectively. Remi Watson recorded the lone rushing touchdown after posting 32 yards on nine carries.
“Bottom line is our kids went into that football game and found a way to win it. That’s the important thing,” head coach Doc Holliday said. “It was sloppy at times, but I felt when they had to step up and make plays they did.”
The Herd defense limited the Tiger offense to 372 total yards and created two turnovers. Linebacker Billy Mitchell anchored the defense with 13 tackles, while forcing a pass breakup and quarterback hurry. Defensive back D.J. Hunter followed with 12 tackles.
Marshall (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 7-0 lead after Gator Hoskins earned his ninth touchdown of the season on a 1-yard pass from Cato.
Starting at its own 43-yard line, Marshall used six plays for its next scoring drive. Justin Haig’s 41-yard field goal with just under three minutes left in the opening quarter made the score 10-0.
Memphis (1-8, 1-4) recorded its first points after using 14 plays to go 49 yards. The series culminated with a 5-yard touchdown run by junior back Jai Steib.
Marshall responded late in the second quarter and topped off a 75-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run from Watson, putting the Herd up 17-7 at halftime.
After forcing the Tigers to go three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, the Herd took the following possession 81 yards and used a 25-yard post pattern from Demetrius Evans to improve the lead to 24-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Haig directed a squib kick at a Tiger player and Marshall’s Cortez Carter recovered the loose ball to give the Herd the ball at midfield.
“I’d like to say it was by design, but it wasn’t,” said Holliday on the kickoff recovery. “It was just a squib and we were trying to get it on the ground. We did a good job at getting it on the ground other times after that. We were fortunate to get the ball there and I’m not going to tell you that it was designed because it wasn’t.”
Using seven plays to march the ball 50 yards, Devon Johnson became the 16th Marshall player to catch a touchdown, giving the Herd 21 unanswered points and a 31-7 lead over the Tigers. The touchdown catch was only Johnson’s second reception of the season.
Memphis pulled a 21-point swing and scored three unanswered touchdowns in the last 16 minutes of the game.
The Tigers cut the Marshall lead to 31-21 after quarterback Jacob Karam completed a 1-yard touchdown to Jesse Milleson, then recovered an onside kick on the following play. Steib earned his second touchdown of the game with a 2-yard rush into the end zone.
Memphis cut the Marshall lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, using a 61-yard fake punt to set the ball up on the Marshall 5. Marshall’s defense forced a fumble on the edge of the end zone, but Memphis offensive lineman Jordan Devey secured the ball for a touchdown to trim Marshall’s lead to 31-28.
Marshall was forced to a fourth-and-6 on the following drive, but overcame the situation with a 28-yard touchdown grab by Allen to make it 38-28.
After allowing Memphis to go 6-for-6 on the day on fourth-down conversions, the Herd defense finally made a stop when Carter sacked Karam with just over two minutes left on the clock.
Marshall took a knee to end the game.
The Herd will travel to Birmingham, Ala., next Saturday to take on UAB. Kickoff will be 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and the game can be seen on WCHS-TV.