WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -
Quarterback Caleb TerBush had the Purdue offense ready to score any time it needed to Saturday.
The only thing that stopped the Boilermakers was their own defense.
TerBush threw four touchdown passes Saturday, Purdue returned two interceptions for scores and the Boilermakers finally came up with a big stop late to hold off Marshall's second-half charge for a 51-41 victory.
"I told the defensive backs that we were getting jealous over there and they should probably stop on the 1-yard line or something so we could get a touchdown," TerBush joked after the game. "But it was awesome. It was a big change of momentum there, and they made good plays."
Turns out the Boilermakers (3-1) needed every big play they could get in a wild game that took players, fans and even the coaches on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Fans appeared poised for an early postgame celebration when Purdue picked off three passes in nine plays during the second quarter, turning each into touchdowns as they built a 42-14 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, they were gasping as Marshall (2-3) trimmed Purdue's four-touchdown lead to 45-35, and they couldn't relax again until Marshall lost a fumble in the final minute.
On the field, the scene was just as remarkable.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday left the field with a gash on his face, unwilling to say what happened, as the teams combined for 977 yards and ran so many plays (181) that a postgame recount showed two more than the previous announcement at game's end.
TerBush finished 27 of 37 for 294 yards with four TDs, three to Gary Bush, and one interception -- mediocre numbers on this day.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato went 45 of 68 for 439 yards with five touchdowns, three to Gator Hoskins, and the three interceptions. He threw more times and completed more passes than any opponent in Purdue history, breaking the marks set by Illinois quarterback Jack Trudeau in 1985.
Receiver Tommy Shuler caught 19 passes for 200 yards, breaking Marshall's single-game record for receptions (15) set most recently by Josh Davis in 2004.
But that was of little consolation to the Thundering Herd.
"We wanted a `W'," Cato said. "We didn't win, so the stats don't matter to us."
Somehow, though, on a day when the two high-powered offenses dominated the game, Purdue's defense proved to be the difference.
It started with Antoine Lewis' interception off a dropped ball. Five plays later, TerBush hooked up with Bush for a 35-yard score to make it 21-14.
Three plays after that, Ricardo Allen stepped in front of a Marshall receiver, caught the ball and sprinted 39 yards down the left side of the field. It was his fourth career TD off of an interception, breaking the school record that he previously shared with Mike Rose and Rod Woodson.
On the ensuing series, Josh Johnson jumped the route, caught Cato's throw in stride and was so far ahead of anyone else on the field that nobody chased him on the 76-yard return. It marked the first time in school history that Purdue scored twice on interception returns in the same game.
"Anytime you have two pick-sixes in the first half and have that type of cushion at halftime, I think that's huge for your football team," coach Danny Hope said.
The Boilermakers needed every point.
Cato opened the second half with a 28-yard TD pass to Hoskins to make it 42-21, and after Derek Mitchell returned a blocked punt 35 yards for a score, Marshall was within 42-28.
Purdue answered with a 34-yard field goal, but Cato delivered with a 1-yard TD pass to Hoskins to get Marshall back into the game at 45-35 with 12:53 to go.
"The momentum gets to you, and you just play," Cato said.
TerBush responded by settling down the Boilermakers offense and leading them on a methodical drive that finally took some time off the clock. He capped the drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Bush, making 51-35. Bush had seven catches for 83 yards.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," Bush said. "Some games you don't get the ball that much, some games you do. Today was my lucky day."
Marshall, the nation's No. 1 passing team, refused to go away.
Cato's 15-yard TD pass to Craig Wilkins with 3:47 left made it 51-41, and it wasn't until Purdue's Will Lucas finally recovered Cato's with 48 seconds left that the Boilermakers could, finally, celebrate their final non-conference tuneup.
"Anytime that we got their offense off the field that was good, that was huge and that was the plan," Hope said. "We felt like, coming into the football game, that we would have had to execute very well on the offensive side of the ball."