Nov. 24, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
GREENVILLE, N.C. – Blake Frohnapfel’s 51-yard touchdown run wasn’t just of significance in Marshall’s last game of the 2012 football season.
The backup quarterback’s seemingly unlikely trip to the end zone Friday in what eventually became a double overtime loss to East Carolina reflected the Thundering Herd’s offensive season.
Opponents just couldn’t catch up with the Herd.
A 65-59 loss left Marshall with a 5-7 record, primarily because while no one could stop an attack powered by sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, the Herd defense struggled just as mightily to get a handle on opponents’ offenses, which resulted in Saturday’s resignation by defensive coordinator Chris Rippon.
The bad news is the Herd won’t be going to the Military Bowl, a possible destination had Marshall been able to hang on after losing its starting quarterback to a left knee injury for its first win in history in ECU’s home.
The good news is most of what the Herd put on the field – especially on offense – will be back in 2013.
“A season like this year’s, mostly the thing I’m mad about is we didn’t win two consecutive games all year,” Cato, whose 4,201 passing yards leads the nation, said postgame. “That’s the one thing.
“I told our guys it’s going to be a whole lot different ballgame next year, a whole different ballgame my last two years here. I don’t see myself losing. I’m not going to settle for anything less.
“If you’re not willing to lay it on the line, you’re not going to play … get off the field. It’s going to be a whole turnaround.”
Well, the pieces are there, and if Cato’s words ring true – and he’s a guy who has consistently shown up, win or lose for candid sessions with the media – then leadership won’t be an issue, either.
Marshall loses three starters on offense and three on defense for Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth season in 2013. The Herd returns 98.5 percent of its total offense, 95.4 percent of its rushing yards, 83 percent of its scoring, 67 percent of its receptions, 64 percent of its receiving yards … and 100 percent of its passing yards from Cato and redshirt freshman Frohnapfel.
He was just one of several Herd offensive players – like running back Essray Taliaferro and receivers Craig Wilkins and Jazz King -- who stepped into crucial roles as the Herd scored its most points in history in a loss.
“The thing about ‘Froh’ is he always works,” Cato said of his backup. “He always pushes me all the time, on the field, off the field.
“I had no concerns, no doubts, about him being in there.”
Frohnapfel’s ability to run in the read option can provide the Herd with a different dimension at quarterback. He doesn’t quite have Cato’s arm strength or – obviously – his experience, but Holliday said the Herd has to find a way to get Frohnapfel on the field more often in 2013.
“We have to play him more,” Holliday said. “He’s an excellent player, a great kid, and there’s no reason he can’t go in and play well because he brings legs into our offense. You saw what he did out there today.”
CBS Sports Network cameras didn’t, however, when Frohnapfel took off on his scoring run. The camera followed Taliaferro and finally picked up the tall, ambling QB about the 15-yard line.
Great fake. Better run on the read option.
“There’s no way that big kid is running with it, no way,” said a grinning Frohnapfel, when told of the telecast taking the same fake the ECU defense did.
“They all started chasing the running back, so I figured someone would tackle me, but no one came. If somebody would run me down, somebody would run me down. I almost fell three times along the way.”
Frohnapfel completed 12-of-15 passes for 101 yards and a score after Cato was 31-of-40 for 318 yards and five touchdowns. Each threw an interception. Cato’s poise has become the expected, but after he went out not much past the midway point of the third quarter, Frohnapfel was an unknown quantity in such a clutch situation.
“Being the backup, it’s something you’re prepared for all year,” the redshirt freshman QB from Stafford, Va., said. “You never really know when you’re chance is going to come. You always want to play … I just tried to do what I could.
“That’s part of being a backup quarterback. You’ve just got to wait for your opportunity. When opportunity comes, you’ve got to take the most of it. Early in the year, it would be mop-up duty or one play against Tulsa, and that’s all I really had.
“This was a chance to go in and play a little bit and help the team, but we didn’t come out with it. I’m sorry for our eight seniors; it’s sad they have to go out this way, but I thought everybody played as hard as they could and I’m proud of the team.”
Frohnapfel said he was calmed in the bowl-urgency, high-energy, road-game atmosphere by QB coach Tony Petersen and offensive coordinator Bill Legg, who were on the phone from the pressbox with him, and by “my teammates … did a great job, all of the captains keeping me calm, because that’s the first real action I’ve had. I wanted to do a good job and make sure I was level-headed.”
As a relief pitcher, he brought the Herd a change of pace, and another proven ingredient for 2013. He also could give opposing defenses another thing to think about in the Herd arsenal – as if there’s not enough there already, as was proven time and again.
“Obviously, sort of selfishly, I could say I wish I’d play more, but when your offense is one of the top 10 in the country and you’re playing that way level every week, you can’t look at it selfishly that way,” Frohnapfel said.
“This was a chance to make a case for myself. Hopefully, I can get a few plays here and there next season, but Rakeem is a great quarterback.”
He’ll be pushing Cato, as the latter said … and Cato will be pushing everyone else, he promises.