Marshall football: Late score sinks Herd at MTSU
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The components of the Marshall University football team that pushed it to the top of the Conference USA East Division standings sent it sliding back closer to the rest of the back Thursday night.
The Thundering Herd's defense and special teams - both crucial in its win over Florida Atlantic - did it in against Middle Tennessee State in a 51-49 loss at Floyd Stadium. Marshall allowed a season high in both yards and points, while special teams turnovers created problems early.
With the loss, Marshall (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) falls from the top of the East. East Carolina, idle this week, sits at 3-1 in the conference.
"They made one play better than us," a visibly frustrated quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "That's all I can say. They made one play better than us."
It looked like the Herd might pull it out after Essray Taliaferro's touchdown with 2:29 left the game made it 49-45 in favor of Marshall. But MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore led the Blue Raiders on a 79-yard touchdown drive, hitting Tavarres Jefferson on a nine-yard pass as time ran out for the win.
The Herd defense gave up 585 yards Thursday - 308 on the ground and 277 through the air. Its previous season high in yards allowed was 395 against Florida Atlantic. Its previous season high in points allowed was 34 in a loss to Ohio.
"You can't pin it on coaches and you can't pin it on players," linebacker Evan McKelvey said. "You have to pin it on all of us as a team. We made mistakes and that cost us."
A glaring example of the Herd's woes in both departments came in the third quarter. Punter Tyler Williams went low to catch a snap and his knee hit the turf, giving Middle Tennessee (4-4, 2-2 C-USA) the ball at Marshall's 47. The Blue Raiders could get only 27 yards, but took nearly four minutes off the clock in 13 plays before kicking a field goal to make it a two-score game with 3:54 left in the third.
Marshall responded with a special-teams bright spot - an 81-yard Deandre Reaves kickoff return that put the Herd on the Blue Raiders 17 - and Rakeem Cato hit Tommy Shuler for a six-yard score to cut Middle Tennessee's lead to three points. The Blue Raiders hit back with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, ending in quarterback Logan Kilgore's six-yard pass to Corey Carmichael to make it 45-35. That was Middle Tennessee's fourth of five scoring drives of the game of at least 71 yards.
The Herd put itself in an early hole thanks to a growing problem this season, special teams miscues. With the game tied 7-7 late in the first quarter, Alex Bazzie blocked Chris Brown into punter Tyler Williams. Brown blocked the punt, scooped it up and ran three yards for a touchdown to give Middle Tennessee a 14-7 lead. It was the second blocked punt returned for a touchdown against Marshall this season. The first came in the first quarter of the Herd's loss to Virginia Tech.
"On the punt team, that should never happen," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "They guys have to do their jobs and we have to do a better job of coaching them, evidently."
That punt block also was the second special teams blunder of the quarter for Marshall. Punt returner Devon Smith fielded a punt at the Herd 29, but Stephen Roberts forced a fumble recovered by Reggie Whatley at Marshall's 32. Marshall corner Darryl Roberts minimized the damage from that turnover by intercepting Kilgore in the end zone.
Marshall recovered, thanks in large part to tight end Gator Hoskins. It looked like the senior tied the game at 14 with a catch from Rakeem Cato, but officials overturned the touchdown call and placed the ball inside the 1-yard line. Essray Taliaferro scored on a run to tie the game one play later.
Hoskins got his touchdown late in the second quarter, stretching to catch a six-yard Cato pass on the right side of the end zone and getting a foot down before falling out of bounds. It was his fourth catch of the game and sixth touchdown of the season, and it gave Marshall its first lead of the game, 21-14.
That lead was short-lived, though. Middle Tennessee was able to tie the game again with 27 seconds left in the first half. Kilgore's 16-yard pass to Christian Collis capped a seven-play, 66-yard, 62-second drive that swung momentum back the Blue Raiders' way.
Cato completed 19 of 35 passes for 235 yards three touchdowns and an interception. Essray Taliaferro rushed for a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Hoskins led Marshall with 88 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
The Herd returns to Joan C. Edwards Stadium next Saturday for a game against Southern Mississippi.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.