Marshall's Aaron Dobson hoists the MVP trophy after the Herd's win Tuesday night.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As Aaron Dobson held his MVP trophy from the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg, a realization struck him - his junior season had just ended.
Upon the end of Marshall's 20-10 win Tuesday night over Florida International, Dobson becomes one of the Thundering Herd's elder statesmen, the face of what will be a very small senior class.
"We've got to be leaders," Dobson said. "I wasn't as vocal as I thought I should have been this year. I'm going to put that on myself to be more vocal and be more of a leader, and we'll see how it goes."
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Dunbar native completed his considerable 2011 highlight reel with two touchdowns, critical catches of 31 and 35 yards within the final 30 seconds of both halves. The first allowed the Herd to get out of the first half tied at 10.
The second, on a gutsy fourth-and-5 call at the FIU 35, ended 591/2 minutes of suspense and allowed juiced-up Herd fans to start their celebration at Tropicana Field.
"I just felt at that point we needed to make a play," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "If we throw it to that guy, he's got a shot at making one. We're not very smart, because we sure as hell don't throw it to him enough. He needs to touch it about 12 times."
Then, Holliday turned to Dobson and informed him, "Aaron, next time you're a- will touch it about 12 times."
The thing is, Dobson probably can catch a pass off his posterior. If you can snag one backhanded and pin it on your hip, as he did against East Carolina, why not?
Rakeem Cato finished 27-of-39 for 226 yards and those TD tosses to Dobson, who caught seven passes for 81 yards. Cato's ability to turn potential disasters into positive yardage occasionally frustrated the Golden Panthers.
"I thought their quarterback did a good job wiggling in and out of stuff and made some key throws that that allowed them to get some critical first downs," said FIU coach Mario Cristobal.
While Cato received high marks for his maturity, he did commit one error that led to FIU's only touchdown. His first-quarter pass to Dobson was snagged by cornerback Richard Leonard, who returned it 34 yards to the MU 47.
Dobson and Cato both agreed the best throw would have been a lob over the defender. Instead, Cato tried to be too surgical.
But Cato made up for that mistake late in the first half, driving the Herd 55 yards on six plays in the hurry-up. He sneaked a 7-yard pass to Tron Martinez on third-and-5, two plays before his perfect lob to Dobson.
"Coverage was pretty good, big guy [Dobson] against the smaller guy [Sam Miller], good throw [to the] off-side shoulder, guy makes a hell of a catch," Cristobal said. "You've got to give him one there."
Dobson finishes the year with 12 touchdowns, nearly one-quarter of his 49 catches. He gained 668 yards on those, giving him career stats of 1,719 yards on 108 receptions, with 21 touchdowns.
There's no numerical way to measure team leadership, but Dobson now must come up big in that department.
"I think we've got eight seniors next year," he said. "We've all got to stick together, got to come together. We've just got to become leaders."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com