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Marshall football: Herd squeaks past Houston, 44-41

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The door to the college football bowl season hasn't closed on Marshall University yet.

Justin Haig's career-long 45-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the game allowed the Thundering Herd to squeak out a 44-41 win over Houston, dash the Cougars' bowl aspirations and keep its own alive entering Friday's regular season finale at East Carolina.

"The bottom line is we won the game," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. " We're happy to get it. It's better than the alternative. We still have a lot to play for, and that's a good thing."

It nearly was very bad for the Herd (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) in the final minutes. Leading by three touchdowns halfway into the third quarter, Marshall watched the Cougars (4-7, 3-4 C-USA) storm back into the game behind a 316-yard, five-touchdown performance by backup quarterback Crawford Jones. 

But it was when the Cougars finally stalled that gave Marshall its chance to win. Houston had the ball at first and 10 at the Herd's 14, but could only manage a 28-yard Matt Hogan field goal to tie the game at 41-41. Richie Leone's ensuing kickoff bounced out of bounds and gave Marshall the ball at its 35 with 1:18 left in the game.

The Herd reached Houston's 28 thanks to three completions for 22 yards and a 16-yard scramble by quarterback Rakeem Cato. Haig, who has been on muscle relaxers and antibiotics for severe back spasms, trickled his kick over the crossbar, but Houston called a time out and forced him to try again.

His encore kick also made it over to give the game to Marshall.

"We got back in the game, then Marshall made more plays than we did," Houston Coach Tony Levine said. "They're an explosive team. We made some adjustments at halftime to get us back in the game, but it wasn't enough."

Marshall barreled to a 31-10 halftime lead that included three Cato touchdown passes and a wild play from Kevin Grooms, who caught a lateral from a scrambling Cato, reversed field and ran up the left sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.

Cato finished the day with 377 yards on 32-of-50 passing, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a five-yard score in the third quarter. Grooms rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Jones got his 316 yards and five touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing. Kenneth Farrow – taking the lion's share of Houston's carries when starter Charles Sims' ankle forced him back to the sideline – rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries. 

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MARSHALL'S OFFENSE reached season highs and one mark tied a school single-game record against the Cougars. The Herd's 37 first downs tied the total against Western Carolina on Sept. 8 as the most in one game in school history. 

The offense's 106 plays were a season high, topping the 101 it ran in the season opener at West Virginia. It barely missed the school record of 108 versus Western Carolina in 1987. Marshall's 665 total yards also were a season-high, eclipsing the 629 gained against Southern Mississippi. It's the most the Herd has gained since racking up 733 yards against Buffalo on Oct. 12, 2002.

Cato's day against the Cougars puts him at No. 1 on the single-season completion chart (375), No. 2 behind Tony Petersen in single-season attempts (544 to Petersen's 622), No. 4 in single-season yards (3,883) and No. 7 in single-season touchdown passes (32). Receiver Tommy Shuler caught nine passes for 105 yards, giving him 96 on the season. He's tied with tight end Sean Doctor for third on the all-time single season list, behind Troy Brown (101 in 1992) and Mike Barber (106 in 1997).

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THE HERD had three senior captains sidelined with injuries against Houston, and they had some company. Receiver Aaron Dobson (knee), linebacker Devin Arrington (knee) and receiver/returner Andre Snipes-Booker (possible concussion) all sat Saturday. Freshman running back Steward Butler dressed, but didn't play with his left wrist in a cast, and freshman running back Remi Watson was taken off the field with a left leg injury and spent the rest of the game on crutches. 

Holliday said Butler could be back for Friday's game, but it's too early to tell with the other injuries.

-- Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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