HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When you're three wins away from bowl eligibility with four regular season games to go - as the Marshall football team was entering Saturday's matchup versus Memphis - victory has no obligation to be beautiful.
"As long as we get the 'W,' " Herd sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "If it's an ugly win, dirty win, happy win, whatever win, we need to get the win. I don't care if we beat a team 80 to zip or 3-0."
There have been prettier wins than the Thundering Herd's 38-28 win over the Tigers, a game the Herd (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) led by as many as 24 before the Tigers (1-8, 1-4) rattled off three consecutive touchdowns to make Marshall fans sweat. Yet that win provided several benefits for the Herd.
It snapped a three-game home losing streak, the longest since Marshall lost three straight at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2007.
It helped wash some of the sour taste from the previous week's blowout loss to Central Florida. And it gives Marshall a spark heading into Saturday's 4:30 p.m. kickoff at Alabama-Birmingham (CSS/WCHS).
"We needed this," linebacker Billy Mitchell said. "Definitely at home after last week, this is a great win for us. Great for us, great for the fans and a great confidence builder for next week against UAB."
Memphis did what it could to shake Marshall's confidence in the second half.
It looked like the Herd would breeze to victory, up 31-7 following the third of Cato's four touchdown passes - a 9-yarder to fullback Devon Johnson. Yet the Tigers started leafing through the lesser-used pages of the playbook to climb back into the game.
They scored 14 points without Marshall gaining possession.
After Jesse Milleson's 1-yard touchdown catch from Memphis quarterback Jacob Karam, the Tigers recovered an onside kick and finished that drive with a 2-yard Jai Steib run.
Marshall went three plays and out on its next drive, and the Tigers scored a third touchdown on a six-play, 65-yard drive, 61 yards coming on punter Tom Hornsey's punt-fake jump-pass to Bobby McCain.
Memphis scored after Steib fumbled into the end zone from the 1 and left tackle Jordan Devey recovered.
A comfortable lead became a 31-28 nailbiter and the Herd was reeling. But it didn't fold and didn't fracture. Players beseeched each other to hold their heads up and regain their focus.