Herd completes comeback
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It certainly wasn't the prettiest football game Marshall University head coach Doc Holliday had ever seen his team play, but as Justin Haig's kick sailed through the Florida sky, there had been nothing any more beautiful.
Haig's 41-yard field goal as time expired silenced the announced crowd of 19,760 at FAU Stadium and gave Marshall a 24-23 victory over Florida Atlantic that kept the Thundering Herd (4-2) undefeated in Conference USA (2-0).
The kick capped an impressive comeback win after the Herd trailed by two scores with just 10 minutes to play.
"For three years, we didn't find a way to do that," Holliday said. "I was really proud of that team - the way they fought, scratched and at the end of the day, they found a way to win the game."
Haig, a Delray Beach, Fla., native, is one of 34 Florida players on Marshall's roster and it was everything he could have wished for in front of friends and family members.
"I live about 30 minutes away from here so it's just a good feeling," Haig said. "I had about 25 people to watch me."
Not only did the win keep Marshall undefeated in conference play, the win snapped a four-game road losing streak.
In a contest where Marshall's offense had trouble getting its rhythm, the Herd certainly got some big plays down the stretch.
Starting from its own 9, Marshall went 67 yards in nine plays with several crucial plays to earn the win.
No play will be bigger than one made by the smallest player on the team -- Devon Smith. The 5-foot-7, 155-pound wide receiver went up for a jump ball over FAU cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc, who is 5-11, 175. The 35-yard gain put Marshall in field goal territory.
From there, the team rushed twice to line up the kick before spiking it on third down to set up Haig's kick.
"We tried a couple of runs to try and get it a little closer, but anytime you're inside the 25, I feel pretty comfortable that we could spike it and run the clock down so it was the last play of the game," Holliday said. "At that point, we were either going to win it or we were going to lose it and I guess we won it."
Just 10 minutes prior, a victory looked improbable for the Herd after a 1-yard touchdown run by Quez Johnson made it FAU 23-14.
Marshall faced a do-or-die fourth-down play from the FAU 41 when Cato found Gator Hoskins, who broke two would-be tackles before outracing a third defender to the end zone.
"I felt the blitz so I wanted to buy as much time as I needed," Cato said. "He ran the perfect route and after that, he just did Gator -- he went out and made a play."
Cato finished the game 18 of 34 passing for 216 yards and the touchdown to Hoskins while also tying for top honors rushing with 45 yards.
Johnson, the reigning C-USA Player of the Week, was equally as impressive for FAU, finishing 16 of 28 for 187 yards and a two scores (one rushing, one passing) while leading the Owls with 78 yards on the ground.
The difference in the game proved to be a missed extra point by FAU's Mitch Anderson after Johnson's 5-yard touchdown pass to Nexon Dorvilus that put FAU ahead 16-14 late in the third quarter.
Anderson has struggled as of late, having missed six of seven field goals prior to hitting one late in the first half.
The game proved to be a defensive struggle early with the Herd not scoring an offensive touchdown in the first half. However, Marshall led 7-3 at intermission after Smith returned a punt 77 yards for a score early in the second quarter.
After nearly breaking two punt returns last week against UTSA, Smith was finally able to find the end zone with a punt return.
Smith fielded a punt and outraced the FAU defenders to the edge before cutting back all the way across the field and getting into the end zone ahead of a tackle.
"I've been waiting on that for 1,000 years now - my first punt return in college history," Smith said. "I was happy to get that and happy to put that first touchdown on the board."
The return was Marshall's first punt return for a score since Andre Snipes-Booker returned one 87 yards for a score on Sept. 4, 2011, against West Virginia. Smith's return was the eighth-longest punt return in Marshall history.
Marshall now has 12 days before heading to Middle Tennessee for a contest with the Blue Raiders. That will be a Thursday night game in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Oct. 24.
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