Middle Tennessee safety Chris Brown (center) blocks a punt by Marshall's Tyler Williams.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Marshall's road luck ran out on the final play Thursday night at Floyd Stadium, as Tavarres Jefferson caught a 9-yard pass from Logan Kilgore on the game's final play to give Middle Tennessee a 51-49 victory.Jefferson had just given the Blue Raiders (4-4, 2-2 Conference USA) a first down at the Marshall 9-yard line, catching an 18-yard pass. Jefferson accounted for 70 receiving yards on the 79-yard drive, including a 14-yard pass that somehow escaped the grasp of Herd linebacker Jermaine Holmes.The final drive went 79 yards in 13 plays, chewing up all 2:29 the Thundering Herd left when Essray Taliaferro scored on a 2-yard run. It was the second straight road game that the Herd (4-3, 2-1) rallied from two scores down to take the lead, this time at 49-45.Taliaferro had a career-best rushing day, gaining 134 yards on 28 carries with two scores. Kevin Grooms also scored on two 1-yard runs, and added 50 yards on 17 carries.
But it was the Blue Raiders who ran wild, rushing for 308 of their 585 total yards. Jordan Parker rushed for 127 yards and one score, and Reggie Whatley added 104.Kilgore, who was benched for the final 3-plus quarters 12 days ago in a 34-7 loss at North Texas, played the whole game and played it well. Operating in a Herd-free pocket, he went 22 of 40 for 277 yards and four touchdowns - to Kyle Griswould, Christian Collis, Cody Carmichael and Jefferson. Kilgore scored another TD on a sneak.With the score tied at 21 at the half, the Raiders had the ball first to open the second half and scored on their first four possessions. The Herd answered with a Grooms run and Tommy Shuler's 6-yard pass from Rakeem Cato, but the Raiders led 38-28 and 45-35, the latter with 13:17 left.
Finally, the Herd defense got some stops and Marshall rallied on Grooms' and Taliaferro's short TD runs to lead 49-45. Devon "Moo Moo" Smith started the latter drive with a 37-yard punt return to the MTSU 44.Cato finished 19 of 35 for 235 yards and three touchdowns, the 25th consecutive game he has thrown a TD pass.In the first half, Marshall had to overcome a blocked-punt touchdown, the second it has yielded this season.Briefly
Cato had to leave the game for a play in the first half after a getting belted on a first-down run near the MTSU goal line. Blake Frohnapfel entered, bobbled a high snap and took a loss, and Cato returned.Safety D.J. Hunter apparently was knocked briefly unconscious during the final drive. After several minutes, he did walk off the field under his own power.Running back Steward Butler, who was left home from the Oct. 12 Florida Atlantic trip, was added to the travel roster, as were defensive backs Corie Wilson and Michael Johnson. Johnson changed his number from 24 to 30, as he and Jazz King played on the same special-teams unit.
Butler did not play.
The MTSU band was given a warning not to play as teams were getting ready for a snap.Football fans here had to make a choice between this game and a much-anticipated high school game 3 miles away. Two 8-0 teams, Oakland and Blackmon, faced off in the consensus game of the week in the state of Tennessee, played before 5,000-plus fans and a local TV audience.
The conflict even split the family of MTSU defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, whose son, Ty, plays at Oakland.The attendance was announced at 19,898, but the actual rumps-in-chilly-seats count was about half of that.A fan apparently jumped off the upper deck of Floyd Stadium, on the side adjacent to the baseball stadium. Paramedics and campus police were quickly on the scene, and the fan reportedly had a broken neck.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.