Marshall's Ricardo Williams, right, pressures Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol (19) during the Conference USA championship NCAA college football game in Huntington, W.Va., Saturday Dec. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)
Chris Tilley
December 06, 2014

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) Rakeem Cato passed 5 yards to Deon-Tay McManus with 1:50 remaining to lift Marshall over Louisiana Tech 26-23 on Saturday for the Thundering Herd's first Conference-USA championship.

Cato rolled out to his right and hit McManus in the back corner of the end zone to give Marshall its first lead of the game. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Neville Hewitt intercepted Cody Sokol and Marshall ran out the clock.

McManus also caught Cato's other touchdown pass in the second quarter and Justin Haig kicked four field goals for Marshall (12-1), which lost to Rice 41-24 in last year's title game.

Cato completed 25 of 46 passes for 308 yards with an interception.

''Every time we took the field, we knew we could make plays,'' Cato said. ''On that last drive, we made the plays.''

A 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky last week knocked Marshall out of the Top 25 rankings, but they bounced back to claim their first C-USA title.

''How great does that sound? Conference USA Champions,'' Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. ''I can't say enough how proud I am of that team.

''The culture has changed here. These kids come to play, and they work hard. They sure deserve what they got today.''

Kenneth Dixon ran for 156 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs (8-5). Dixon's three touchdowns gave him the school record for career touchdowns with 59, passing Troy Edwards.

Louisiana Tech had six players declared academically ineligible for the game. Five of them were starters, including right tackle Mitchell Bell, left guard Tre Carter, defensive tackle Aaron Brown and linebackers Tony Johnson and Terrell Pinson.

That didn't seem to slow down the Bulldogs in the rain.

Dixon had first-half scoring runs of 33 and 30 yards to stake Louisiana Tech to a 17-13 halftime lead. His second score came after the Bulldogs recovered a punt that bounced off a Marshall player.

With the score 17-16, Bulldogs' Paul Turner blocked a punt and Le'Vander Liggins returned it 20 yards to the Marshall 19. Dixon ran it in for a score on the Herd's next play from scrimmage with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.

Haig kicked his fourth field goal, a C-USA championship game record that earned him game MVP honors, with 8:34 left in the game.

Cato's winning pass capped an 11-yard, 68-play drive.

Devon Johnson, Marshall's 1,600-yard rusher, sat out the first half and finished with only four carries for 34 yards after injuring a shoulder in last week's loss to Western Kentucky.

The Herd rolled up 429 yards offense to the Bulldogs' 268.

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