TU rallies but falls to Marshall, 45-34 — Tulsa World: TU Football

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TU Football

Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2013 5:15 pm | Updated: 11:40 pm, Thu Nov 14, 2013.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato passed for 248 yards and four touchdowns, and he did it all during one half of football – the first half of Thursday’s Conference USA contest matching the Thundering Herd and the University of Tulsa.

Through one period, Marshall led 21-0.

By halftime, the Thundering Herd sat on a 31-14 cushion.

For the Golden Hurricane, a disappointing season was becoming increasingly grim. Tulsa seemed positioned for a home blowout defeat – until linebacker Shawn Jackson made a huge play (a tipped-ball interception) that was followed by Trey Watts’ two touchdowns, Thomas Roberson’s touchdown, Dane Evans’ touchdown, Carl Salazar’s two field goals and an inspired turnaround by the Hurricane defense.

Tulsa’s surge coincided with Marshall’s unraveling – four turnovers within a span of 18 minutes – and the Hurricane led 34-31 in the fourth quarter.

Marshall answered with its first score of the second half, getting a Rakeem Cato-to-Tommy Shuler touchdown pass and reclaiming the lead with 3:47 left to play.

Less than a minute later, the Thundering Herd defense buried TU as Ra’Shawde Myers sacked Evans for a staggering loss of 20 yards.

When Evans was spiked down at the Hurricane 4-yard line, Tulsa was finished. Marshall capitalized with Essray Taliaferro’s 1-yard TD plunge, and the Thundering Herd sustained its bid for the C-USA East Division title by escaping with a 45-34 victory.

“We had a chance to quit early,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “Terrible first quarter.”

And yet, when the Hurricane had the lead and possessed the football with less than six minutes remaining, “there was a point there where I thought we had it,” Blankenship said.

That Tulsa possession began at the Hurricane 12-yard line and ended after three plays and a punt. Marshall had great field position at the Tulsa 39, and Cato found Shuler for the go-ahead TD.

As Cato passed for 456 yards and five touchdowns, the Thundering Herd improved to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play. Marshall has beaten Tulsa for the first time in five meetings.

Thursday’s attendance at H.A. Chapman Stadium was announced as having been 16,723, but the actual attendance appeared to have been less than 5,000.

Marshall hosts East Carolina on Nov. 29 in Huntington, W.Va. More than likely, the East Carolina-Marshall winner captures the East Division crown and a berth in the conference championship game.

“You’ve got to give Bill and that (Tulsa) football team a lot of credit,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “They come in here with two wins and we went up 21-0. They had the opportunity to not play the rest of the game, (but) they did. They fought back and had a chance to win the game, and our kids found a way to win the game.

“Any time you go on the road and win a conference game, it’s critical.”

In 2012, Tulsa was a participant in the conference championship game. The Hurricane was an 11-win squad and the C-USA champion. Through its first eight seasons of membership, the Hurricane recorded more victories than any other conference team.

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Now, as it nears the end of its final season of Conference USA competition, the Hurricane is making an ugly exit.

Cursed by circumstances that include injuries and inexperience at key positions, Tulsa has plummeted to records of 2-8 overall and 1-5 in league play.

On a total of 103 offensive plays, Marshall had 619 yards. The Thundering Herd scored 45 points in spite of five turnovers.

The Hurricane was plus-3 on turnovers but 3-of-17 on third-down conversions. A sub-standard passing game has plagued Tulsa all season, and it was sub-standard again on Thursday as Evans was 13-of-39 for 161 yards, with one TD (a 26-yard throw to Roberson) and one interception.

“We’re hurt,” said Tulsa senior linebacker Shawn Jackson, who totaled 14 tackles while recovering two fumbles and intercepting a Cato pass. “We have good practices, but games haven’t turned out like we want.”

Late in the first period, already leading 21-0, Marshall drove to the Tulsa 9-yard line. The Thundering Herd seemed destined for a 28-0 advantage. Instead, Jackson made a tremendous play on a Cato pass – tipping and intercepting it. The Hurricane drove 93 yards and scored its first points on Watts’ 1-yard touchdown run.

“Shawn Jackson is a special player,” Blankenship said. “Just incredible. He just fights his tail off.”

With a career-high total of 169 rushing yards, Watts became only the second player in TU program history to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. With two games remaining – at Louisiana Tech on Nov. 23 and against North Texas on Nov. 30 – his total stands at 1,023.

“We never wanted to quit,” Watts said. “The defense kept fighting and getting turnovers for us.”

The comeback from a 21-0 deficit, Watts said, “speaks to a team’s character.”

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