BOGACZYK: Hilltoppers Light Up Herd's Perfect Season
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 28, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It was Black Friday in more than one way in these parts.
Nationally ranked Marshall's 2014 dream football season was interrupted by a nightmare.
Western Kentucky rolled into Joan C. Edwards Stadium on the Thundering Herd's Senior Day and went toe-to-toe with Coach Doc Holliday's team. And after 1,446 yards total offense and a Conference USA record 133 points on the scoreboard, the Hilltoppers ended Marshall's unbeaten season with a 67-66 overtime victory.
It was a battle between the league's top two offenses ... and it played out just that way before a chilled crowd of 23,576.
After the No. 19/20 Herd took its first lead - in OT - on Rakeem Cato's 25-yard pass to freshman Hyleck Foster, WKU answered promptly with a 25-yard scoring throw from senior quarterback Brandon Doughty to wideout Jared Dangerfield. The `Toppers went for a two-point conversion, and Doughty found a wide-open Willie McNeal in the right flat for the upset.
That was the end of any possibility of a College Football Playoff access bowl berth for the Herd and C-USA.
You can call that WKU conversion the $6 million extra points. That's how much the Group of Five conference that sends a team into the CFP system will earn.
It was the most points allowed by a Herd team since an 81-0 loss at West Virginia on Oct. 20, 1923. The 1,446 combined yards obliterated the combined total offense record in the Herd books - 1,249 for Marshall-Akron in 2001, a 50-33 MU triumph.
"We didn't do a very good job of stopping them," Holliday said after the Herd (11-1, 7-1) had allowed 738 yards - the most in history against a Marshall team - and a stadium record eight scoring passes by Doughty. "And at the end of the day, we turned it over too many times."
Western (7-5, 4-4) led 14-0 after only 3:37 had ticked off the clock, and the Herd was playing catch-up most of the day. It was 49-42, WKU, in the highest-scoring major-college half this season.
And it wasn't just the Herd defense that was unraveled by Doughty's 34-for-50 day, for a stadium opponent-record 491 yards, and 237 rushing yards by Leon Allen.
Cato threw four interceptions. The only other time he's done that in his college career came in a 44-7 loss at Ohio in Cato's third college game, back in 2011.
"This way my fault," Cato said after a game in which his seven touchdown passes set a Marshall single-game record. "The whole game came down to me being the quarterback of this team. I can't throw four interceptions and spot a team 21 points.
"It can't happen. It just comes down to that. I threw four interceptions and that cannot happen for me. The last time I threw four interceptions was my freshman year at Ohio. It can't happen. It's as simple as that. This whole game comes down to me. We aren't in this predicament if I don't throw four interceptions. It's point blank. Everything that happened today falls on me. We lost today because of me."
Marshall, which had trailed only 37 minutes, 6 seconds in its first 11 games, was in arrears 56:18 in this one. It was tied at 49 on Steward Butler's 22-yard run with 58 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Herd didn't knot it again until 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Cato hit tight end Eric Frohnapfel for a 5-yard scoring pass to tie it at 59.
And speaking of bouncing back, Marshall has to do that this week. Despite the loss, the Herd will play host to the C-USA Championship Game on Dec. 6 at noon against the winner of Saturday's noon matchup between Rice (7-4, 5-2) and host Louisiana Tech (7-4, 6-1).
"You go into that locker room and there are a lot of broken hearts but the bottom line is we've got to put it behind us because we're playing for a championship next week," Holliday said. "And the leadership on this football team has to do a tremendous job of putting this game behind us and moving on because the ultimate goal was to win a championship, and we've still got that out there for us."
Marshall also eclipsed 700 yards (708) for the third time this season, but it didn't matter, because the Hilltoppers riddled a Herd defense that entered the game allowing a C-USA-best 324.4 yards per game, ranking 14th nationally in total defense.
"It was a back-and-forth game," said first-year WKU Coach Jeff Brohm. "They are a good team and know how to win. For us to find a way to win in the end on a two-point play which, I knew we had to go for it or the game would keep going on.
"So we went for it and we are lucky we made it. We try to be aggressive and we will go down swinging."
For the Herd, Butler was special in relief of starting running back Devon Johnson, who left with a left shoulder injury after only three carries and 29 yards. Butler ran for a career-high 233 yards on 24 carries - the sixth highest single-game ground total in MU annals.
Holliday said Johnson "is not in good shape right now."
But when Butler's 2-yard touchdown was scrubbed with 5:32 to play after a replay ruling, the Herd had to use Justin Haig's 17-yard field goal to cut WKU's 10-point margin into something more manageable.
"You're down 10 (59-49) and the one thing that can't happen right there is you can't come away with zero points," Holliday said. "You have to get points and then get it down there and tie up at the end. You can't take chance coming away with nothing."
The Herd got what it needed on Cato-to-Frohnapfel with 0:39 on the clock, but it still hadn't outlasted the resilient Hilltoppers, who will finish their first C-USA season with a bowl berth.
"I didn't see a lot of panic," said Holliday, whose team trailed 42-21 fewer than 20 minutes into the game. "They (the team) fought back into it, tied it up, got it into overtime, went ahead. Unfortunately at the end of the day they made one more play then we did, so I don't think there was any panic was involved in it.
"Ultimately, we didn't play well enough to win the game, so that's what cost us."
Marshall ran for 291 yards, and with 3,462 ground yards this season took the school record for rush yards away from the 1996 NCAA Division I-AA unbeaten national championship team (3,395).
Cato went 29-of-46 for 417 yards and his seven scores, taking his season total to 35 TD passes - making the senior from Miami the only QB in Herd history to have three 30-TD seasons.
It was his other career-high number on which he focused, however, as his senior counterpart from WKU passed for a C-USA record eight scores. Hilltopper sophomore safety Brandon Leston had three of the picks of Cato.
"He made some great plays," the Herd QB said of Leston, "but it's on me. He made his plays and I didn't make mine. They scored one more point than us and that all had to do with me. We got the ball and could've scored easy, but I threw that last pick in the end zone.
"It all comes down to me. I didn't make my plays today and I'm mad at myself. I have to deal with it, but hopefully Sunday I bounce back and have a great week next week."
Marshall's defense never could get a bead on Doughty, and Allen churned ground yards when needed.
"We couldn't get the pressure on the quarterback like we wanted to," Herd senior defensive tackle James Rouse said of Doughty, who was sacked twice. "He was making good throws and the receivers were making the plays. We just couldn't get them off the field on third down."
Junior safety Taj Letman led Marshall on defense with 15 tackles and an interception, but the Herd's season tackles leader, senior linebacker Neville Hewitt, said Marshall's stoppers were far too giving.
"They were probably one of the best offenses we have played against all year, but we didn't play good defense," Hewitt said. "It's frustrating but what I'm telling these guys is overall, this game never should've come down to one point. We played bad defense in the beginning and had four turnovers.
"We should've lost by more than what we lost by. But I've told everyone to keep their head up. We lost by one point but we have to play a championship game next week. We have to go back, look at what we messed up on and fix it.
"We have to move on right now. We have to let it go. It's over and there's nothing we can do about it now except go look at what happened and fix it. Now we know what losing feels like. We don't want to feel that again."
SEEN `N' HERD: The 133 combined points on the scoreboard fell three short of the major-college record, which is shared by a pair of 2007 games - Boise State 69-67 over Nevada in four overtimes, and Navy over North Texas, 74-62 ... Foster, Frohnapfel and Davonte Allen had two touchdown catches apiece for the Herd, while Cato's top target was his fellow senior from Miami, slot receiver Tommy Shuler. He had 10 catches for 132 yards, including a 26-yarder for MU's first touchdown of the game ... Shuler has 297 career catches, nine behind Josh Davis' career record of 306 set from 2001-04. Shuler's 24 TD catches is tied for No. 5 on the Marshall career list with Troy Brown and Aaron Dobson ... Shuler also moved into third place in C-USA history in career catches ... Butler's 233-yard game gave the 2014 Herd team another program first - the first time two different backs have had 200-yard games in the same season. Johnson ran for a school-record 272 yards on Oct. 25 against Florida Atlantic ... The 738 yards of WKU total offense topped the former high against the Herd, 682 in a loss at Tulsa in 2011 ... Western's 67 points is the Edwards Stadium record, topping 54 by UCF in 2012. The 133 points combined is also the record for "The Joan" ... Both teams had 37 first downs, tying the marks for the Herd (2012 versus Western Carolina and Houston) and Marshall opponents (by Kent State in 1973).