HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Aesthetics mean nothing in the win column.
The Marshall University football team gave up an onside kick, a 61-yard fake punt, six of seven fourth downs and most of a 24-point lead, but pulled out a 38-28 victory over Memphis on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. That win snapped Marshall's three-game home losing streak.
The Thundering Herd (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) turned a three-point lead into 10 points with Rakeem Cato's 28-yard touchdown pass to Davonte Allen on fourth and 6 with 7:34 left in the game. Then, after the Tigers (1-8, 1-4 C-USA) drove to Marshall's 31 in 13 plays, the Herd stopped Memphis on fourth down for the first time all game. Cortez Carter sacked Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam on a blitz to give the ball back to Marshall.
"The bottom line is the kids went into the football game and found a way to win it," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "It was sloppy at times, but I felt when they had to step up and make plays, Cortez made that play there at the end of the game, and offensively we were able to … get a couple of first downs and put it away."
It wasn't always a nailbiter at Edwards Stadium. The Herd had taken a 31-7 lead when Cato found Devon Johnson for a nine-yard touchdown pass with 7:39 left in the third quarter. It was just Johnson's second catch of the season.
But the Tigers rattled off 21 straight points by throwing every gimmick and gadget it could at the Herd. Memphis cut the lead to 31-14 on a 14-play, 71-yard drive that ended with Karam's pass to tight end Jesse Milleson on fourth down. Marshall defensive end Alex Bazzie was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play and the Tigers kicked off from the 50, which gave the Tigers the opening for an onside kick.
Memphis recovered and scored on nine-play, 39-yard drive that included Memphis converting on fourth and 2 on Marshall's 18, when Karam hit running back Brandon Hayes for a 15-yard gain. Jai Steib scored from two yards out two plays later.
"Those are good momentum plays," Memphis Coach Justin Fuente said. "We're trying to find a way to steal possession and get the ball back. It was just a perfect kick. It gave our guys a boost."
The Tigers cut Marshall's lead to three on their next drive. Memphis forced a Herd three-and-out and the Tigers responded with a six-play, 65-yard drive that included a 61-yard catch and run on a jump-pass fake punt.