Marshall football: Miscues, poor defense cost Herd
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Some couldn't put their disappointment into words.
"It's one of those emotions where you can feel it, but you really can't express it," Marshall defensive end Alex Bazzie said.
"This game is going to be with us for the rest of our lives," quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "We know we were seconds away from going to a bowl."
Yet a fourth-down conversion allowed here and a fumble there led to a 65-59 double-overtime loss to East Carolina on Friday and kept Marshall home for the college bowl season for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Despite one of the nation's most prolific offenses, the Thundering Herd (5-7, 4-4) finished with its sixth losing season in the last eight and the second in Coach Doc Holliday's three seasons at the helm. As they have for most of the season, mistakes and poor defense did in the Herd.
"To find a way to fight back into it and lose the way we did, I just feel bad for the kids," Holliday said.
At one point, it looked like Marshall's offense could overcome the team's other problems, even with Cato sidelined in the second half with an injured knee and ankle.
The Herd came back from a 28-7 second-quarter hole to take its first lead with 11:12 left in regulation. Backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel ran 51 yards for a touchdown to put Marshall ahead 45-42. And when ECU (8-4, 7-1) tied the game on a 39-yard Warren Harvey field goal, Frohnapfel led another touchdown drive ending Essray Taliaferro's one-yard scoring run to go up 52-45.
The Pirates still had a chance to tie with less than two minutes left in regulation, though, and Marshall's defense couldn't stop them.
The unit almost got it done, forcing ECU into fourth-and-10 at its own 24. But Pirates quarterback Shane Carden hit receiver Justin Hardy for a 19-yard gain to sustain the drive. Nine plays later, Carden found Danny Webster in the back of the end zone for a six-yard score.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime. Marshall took the ball first in the second overtime, and Taliaferro, who gained 130 yards on 27 carries Friday, fumbled on the second play. ECU took over and won Carden's one-yard run.
"I told Tally after he fumbled, we ain't supposed to be in this predicament anyway," Cato said. "We ain't supposed to be in overtime. The game's supposed to be over and we supposed to be on our way back to Huntington."
Injuries shuffled the lineup before and during Friday's game. The offensive line came out with its seventh different starting five this season. Taliaferro started because injuries kept Remi Watson in street clothes and Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler limited to six total carries.
Cato left the game about halfway through the third quarter, after being pulled down from behind on a completion. Trainers strapped on a left knee brace and wrapped his left ankle, and Cato returned for one more play, but the pain proved to be too much.
It wasn't just his leg that hurt after the game. He and the team struggled through a season of inconsistency. Cato had one of the best passing seasons in Marshall history - first in completions (406), second in attempts (584), third in yards (4,201) and tied for third in touchdowns (37) - but a losing record as a starter. The Herd featured one of the nation's best offenses and one of its worst defenses. It also never won consecutive games all season.
Change began almost immediately following the game. Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon resigned Saturday after three seasons at Marshall. And Cato said attitudes must change if the Herd is to climb from mediocrity. Never winning two straight games in 2012 angered him the most out of everything.
"I told the guys in there it's a whole different ball game come next year," he said. "My last two years here, I don't see myself losing. If you're not willing to lay it on the line in practice, you ain't playing. Get off the field."
Most of Marshall's 2012 team will need to heed those words next season.
The Herd loses only eight seniors, though some are among the most important cogs in the machine. Among them are receivers Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, both of whom finished in Marshall's top 10 in career touchdowns and receiving yards. It includes Boston College transfer safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, the team's top two tacklers, and linebacker and defensive captain Devin Arrington. It also includes offensive line stalwart John Bruhin.
Yet the Herd not only returns Cato, but also receiver Tommy Shuler, whose 110 receptions this season broke Mike Barber's 1987 record of 106, and a fleet of talented running backs.
Bazzie and fellow defensive end Jeremiah Taylor come back, as does defensive back-turned-linebacker D.J. Hunter, who was third on the team with 102 tackles. The secondary should get a boost from returning 2011 starter Darryl Roberts and four-star freshman A.J. Leggett, both of whom missed 2012 due to injuries.
The 2013 Herd looks talented, yet so did the 2012 version. Bazzie said it's never too early for the returning players to work toward next season, to turn Marshall's potential into wins and to vault the Herd back into the postseason.
"When a game like this hurts, you actually look forward to the next season so you can try to hurry up and get the bad taste out of your mouth," Bazzie said. "We've got a lot of young guys on the team, so hopefully they can learn from this experience and better themselves and others around us and put us in a great position to not be in a position like this."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.