Marshall football kicked off its 2014 season against Miami (Ohio) as the Thundering Herd held off a late charge by the RedHawks for a 42-27 win at Yager Stadium.
“There was so many unknowns there in the first quarter and we made some adjustments there in the first half and I thought we played pretty good on both sides of the ball,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “Second half we didn’t play quiet as well but I was happy with the way they responded in the fourth quarter and put that game away.”
Marshall elected to defer after winning the coin toss allowing the defense to flex its muscle for the first time this season, forcing Andrew Hendrix and his RedHawks to a three-and-out and bringing Heisman Trophy candidate Rakeem Cato to the field.
Cato marched his troops to the Miami 32-yard line but the drive would stall after center Chris Jasperse was flagged for a personal foul, turning 3rd-and-4 to 3rd-and-19 which the Herd failed to convert and was forced to punt.
Miami’s offense remained stagnant after being forced into another three-and-out but Cato found the spark he needed on his second possession.
|Eric Frohnapfel hauls in a TD at Miami (Ohio).|
Cato hit redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis for a 39-yard gain on first down taking the Herd from its own 46 to the Miami 15. Two plays later, Eric Frohnapfel showed there is life after Gator Hoskins as he hauled in a great diving catch on an 11-yard post route to put the Herd on top 7-0.
“It’s an opportunity we get as tight ends,” Frohnapfel said of his scoring production. “Gator (Hoskins) did that a lot last year and I’m trying to fill that role.”
Miami mounted a seven-play drive that started at the Herd’s 18 on the ensuing drive, but once again stalled as the Herd forced a turnover on downs and take over from its own 43.
Cato connected with his Miami Central receiver Tommy Shuler three times on the drive for gains of 17, 9 and finally a 3-yard touchdown putting Marshall up 14-0 after one quarter of play.
|Tommy Shuler makes a leaping TD catch at Miami (Ohio).|
Cato looked sharp after the first 15 minutes completing 10-of-13 passes for 124 yards and 2 TDs.
Marshall’s defense made another big stop to start the second quarter after Jarquez Samuel met Hendrix at the line of scrimmage forcing back-to-back turnover on downs for the RedHawks.
The Herd’s offense took the spark from the first quarter defensive performance and scored on its third consecutive possession after Devon Johnson busted a 55-yard run off left guard that came up one yard short of six more points. Cato hooked up with Frohnapfel on the next play for a 1-yard touchdown pass as the Herd stormed out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Trailing by 21 and having little help from the back field, Hendrix not only found an offensive rhythm, but much needed confidence as he led a 13-play 62-yard drive—the longest Miami drive of the game— to put his team on the board. Miami converted two third downs and a 4th-and-1 on the drive while receiving a 15-yard gift from Herd nickel back Antavis Rowe after being flagged for a personal foul. Hendrix had three chances from the Herd’s 5-yard line but threw three consecutive incomplete passes forcing the RedHawks to settle for a field goal to cut the Herd’s lead to 21-3.
Marshall’s next position looked sloppy at best as Cato was sacked on first and second down. After Cato’s 9-yard gain to Demetrius Evans failed to move the chains, the Herd was forced to punt. But the Herd lost more than a failed conversion on the play as starting left tackle Sebastian Johansson was injured forcing freshman A.J. Addison to step in and fill the void.
Cato rallied the troops with the assistance of a spectacular 37-yard circus-like catch from Davonte Allen that set up first-and-goal from the two. Johnson finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run extending the lead to 28-3.
Hendrix calmly led his team 74 yards to the Herd 1-yard line before being stood up at the goal line by A.J. Leggett and Jermaine Holmes, saving a touchdown. Miami had one final shot to cash in for six but came up empty after Darryl Roberts deflected a Hendrix pass intended for David Frazier as time expired in the half.
Although Marshall added 14 more points in the second quarter, it held the ball for less than five minutes, forcing the defense to battle through hot and muggy conditions with field temperatures in the upper 90’s for nearly 20 of the first 30 minutes of play.
Deandre Reaves opened the second half with a 29-yard kickoff return as the Herd looked to continue its stellar offensive production from the first half. Marshall appeared to be moving the ball at will after Cato connected with Reaves on back-to-back passes of 8 and 15 yards respectfully. After making a grab that pushed the Herd into RedHawks territory, Reaves lost the handle on the ball and Miami came away with the recovery near midfield.
Hendrix patiently chipped away at the Herd’s defense as the patience paid off with a 28-yard strike to Frazier that set up first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Two plays later, Hendrix hit is former Norte Dame tight end Alex Welch for the RedHawks first touchdown of the game from 2 yards out trimming the lead to 28-10.
Throughout the third quarter everything seemingly fell into place for the RedHawks as they outscored Marshall 17-0 while holding the ball for 10:30 in the quarter.
Marshall’s offense looked stagnate after picking up only two first downs and turned the ball over on downs at the Miami 35-yard line as a Cato’s intended pass to Shuler missed its mark forcing the exhausted Herd defense back to the field.
On the final play of the quarter, ‘Rockhead’ Johnson showed he was going to lead his team to a win as the 243-pound back delivered a punishing 16-yard gain on first down that carried his team into RedHawks territory to start the final stanza.
Cato continued to feed Johnson the ball as the Herd tried to slow the pace of the game allowing the defense a much needed rest.
With the ball at the Miami 22-yard line, Holliday once again left the offense on the field rather than settling for a field goal attempt, and much like the first attempt to convert on fourth down, the Herd came up short as Johnson was stuffed at the line for no gain.
Marshall’s defense stepped up big trying to regain the momentum it had apparently lost after the intermission by forcing Miami to a three-and-out the netted minus 17 yards.
Remi Watson joined Cato in the backfield as the Herd started its drive in Miami’s half of the field. Watson tallied 13 yards on four carries in the drive, but it was Johnson who may have had the biggest play of the game.
|Devon Johnson rushes against Miami (Ohio).|
Facing yet another fourth down and short, the offense stayed on the field as a rested Johnson would replace Watson in the backfield. Johnson found a whole off Jasperse’s right hip and was determined to run over anyone who stepped in his path. The once tight end converted tailback broke two would-be tacklers to bust into the endzone for a 27-yard touchdown and the Herd’s first points since 8:03 remained in the second quarter.
“The game was getting close and we needed a spark and I wanted to be that spark to make sure that we got that win,” Johnson said.
Holliday said Johnson’s score swung the momentum back to the Herd.
“It was huge. It gave us the momentum back to put us back up by 15.”
Miami responded with yet another sustained drive which ended in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Hendrix to Rokeem Williams to pull the RedHawks back to within a single possession.
As the RedHawks refused to surrender to the Herd, it was Cato that came through when his team needed him the most.
With nearly five minutes remaining in the game, Marshall faced a third-and-7 from its own 38-yard line. As Cato started to step up into the pocket, it quickly closed, forcing Cato to scramble. Cato’s eyes remained downfield during the scramble allowing him to see Frohnapfel break free over the middle. Cato delivered a frozen-rope to Frohnapfel that was met by heavy contact by the Miami secondary, but the 6-foot 7-inch tight end never flinched as he confidently pulled in the catch for a 29-yard gain to move the chains.
“Those two plays are plays that Gator caught a lot of touchdowns on,” said Frohnapfel on his two-touchdown performance. “Hopefully I can continue to fill that role.”
His quarterback certainly likes the abilities Frohnapfel has to offer.
“He made some huge plays,” Cato said. “Not only with his catches but his blocks to set up a big run plays.
Holliday agrees with his senior tight ends thinking.
“He (Frohnapfel) made a tremendous catch on the first one, actually both of them,” Holliday said.
“He’s a guy we fell can make plays in the redzone.”
Marshall continued the march towards the goal line on the back of Johnson’s rushing performance. Working from Miami’s 15-yard line, Johnson busted a 12-yard run that up-ended Miami safety Jay Mastin, throwing him through the air like a rag doll.
Cato finished off the Herd’s best drive of the game with a 2-yard diving scamper that broke the goal line giving the Herd a 42-27 lead. Marshall used 11 plays, going 65 yards over 4:24 to push the game out of reach for Miami.
“Everybody kept their composure,” said Cato on the Herd’s second half adversity. “We knew we were going to have adversity and I think we responded great to that adversity. As long as we keep improving every day we will keep getting better and better.”
However, Miami had 2:01 and one timeout remaining but the well-rested Herd defense stole the show at the end.
Miami managed seven plays over its final 1:22 of possession, but managed to gain only 1-yard.
|Darryl Roberts makes a tackle on Miami's Dawan Scott.|
While appearing calm through much of the second half, Hendrix was rushed nearly every snap as D.J. Hunter and Gary Thompson lived in the backfield. Hendrix managed to get a pass away to Frazier for an 8-yard gain, but Herd defensive end Arnold Blackmon finished the RedHawks off with back-to-back sacks of Hendrix including the final sack coming on fourth-and-7.
Statistically, Miami bettered the Marshall in many categories including total plays (85-68), passing yards (318-261) and more importantly, time of possession (34:46-25:14).
“I’m glad that we had a little adversity here, we needed that,” said Holliday. “Bottom line is that we walk out with a win and that’s all that matters.”
Cato offered his thoughts on how he felt the Herd would be graded and the Heisman hopeful did not offer the best of marks for his team.
“I’d give it a B-,” said Cato. “I thought we did some pretty good things but we also had some mistakes.”
Cato finished 20-32 for 261 yards and 3 TD’s and a rushing touchdown. Johnson’s first game as a running back proved to be a memorable one as he finished with 151 yards on 19 carries and 2 TD’s. Johnson‘s net yardage was 1-yard more than Miami’s entire rushing yards gained (150) as a team on 17 fewer carries.
Frohnapfel led the team in receiving going 5-54 and 2 TD’s. Shuler went 4-40 and a TD but went without a catch in the second half.
Hendrix finished 24-49 for 318 yards with 3 TD’s and one interception. Frazier led all receivers with six catches totaling 109 yards including a 47-yard catch.
“The most improvement you’ll make in a game is from game one to game two and we’ve got to make sure we do that,” Holliday added.
The Herd gets that chance when it returns to Huntington Saturday for its home opener against Rhode Island at 7 p.m.