HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato threw four touchdowns to help the Thundering Herd defeat Memphis 38-28 on Saturday afternoon in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
As one of the premier quarterbacks in the nation, leading the NCAA in completions and passing yards, Cato finished 34-of-44 for 341 yards after completing passes to 11 wide receivers and connecting with four different wide outs 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. Freshman duo Kevin Grooms and Stewart 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," noted head coach Doc Holliday. "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 just 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 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.
Using excellent field position on its own 43-yard line, Marshall used six plays to take a 10-0 lead over the Tigers after Justin Haig booted in a 41-yard field goal with just under three minutes left in the opening quarter.
Memphis recorded its first points after using 14 plays to go 49 yards for a 5-yard rush into the end zone from running 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.
At the break, Cato was 22-of-29 and had already accumulated 209 passing yards, compared to Memphis' 47.
After forcing the Tigers to go three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, the Herd took the following drive 81 yards and used a 25-yard post pattern from Demetrius Evans to improve the lead to 24-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Justin 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 of its own in the last 16 minutes of the game.
The Tigers cut the Marshall lead to 31-21 after Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam completed a 1-yard touchdown to Jesse Milleson and 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-yard line. 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-six on the following drive, but overcame the situation with a 28-yard touchdown grab by Davonte Allen to put Marshall up 38-28.
After allowing Memphis to go 6-for-6 on the day in fourth down conversions, the Herd defense finally stopped a fourth down try by Memphis with just over two minutes left on the clock. The stop allowed Marshall to take a knee for the 38-28 victory.
Marshall will travel to Birmingham, Ala. for its next game against the UAB Blazers at 4:30 P.M.