Marshall's kicker Haig is a warrior
HUNTINGTON -- If a person had one choice of a football player to take with them in battle, the team's kicker would normally be the last selection on anyone's mind.
For Marshall University players and coaches, there is no other choice than kicker Justin Haig.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Haig was praised for his all-around toughness after he booted home a career-long 45-yard field goal with seven seconds left Saturday in Marshall's 44-41 win over Houston.
The win kept Marshall (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) in line for a bowl game berth if it can win Friday at East Carolina (7-4, 6-1) in a 2 p.m. contest televised on the CBS Sports Network (CH. 174 on Huntington cable).
"Haig's one guy that I'll crawl in a foxhole with any day because he'll fight for you," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "He's mentally tough and I like what that kid's all about."
Considering the situation, Holliday couldn't be more right.
The 45-yard field goal is right on the cusp of Haig's range -- an aspect that was no more evident than when his first attempt at the kick barely skimmed over the bar as Houston tried to ice him with a timeout.
Undaunted, Haig stepped back up and hit the second kick even more true for the victory.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I knew he was going to make it," Holliday said. "With that being said, I like what he's all about, I like his toughness and in that situation, he's a guy I want kicking that game-winning field goal."
Those were just the circumstances surrounding the kick itself.
Add in the situations that preceded the kick and it was much more impressive.
In terms of the game, Marshall was reeling late after blowing a 21-point lead with 2:23 left. Houston (4-7, 3-4) had battled back to tie it and even had a chance to take advantage as the Herd was reeling down the stretch.
The comeback started with a spot pass by Houston following a squib kick that went for a long return deep into Marshall territory.
On the kick return, Haig made a touchdown-saving tackle and, in the process, reinjured a back that had been giving him problems over the course of the last week.
It was an injury unbeknownst to everyone because Haig went about business as usual.
"I've been battling back spasms for the last week and a half," Haig said. "I've had to get treatment three times a day. I want to thank the training staff because without them, I never would've been able to play. My back has been super tight for the past two weeks."
It was going to take more than a spasm to keep him off the field in the stretch when his team needed him.
"At that moment, the least thing I was worried about was my back," Haig said. "I just wanted to go out and do my job."
It's all part of the warrior mentality Holliday spoke of.
Haig's teammates echoed Holliday's sentiments when talking about the junior kicker.
"I've got big belief in Haig, man," Marshall running back Kevin Grooms said. "He works hard, and the whole season, he's been making plays -- even if it was making tackles. He's been big. I had full faith under that pressure. I know he probably hadn't had that type of pressure, but I could feel that he wanted that."
Haig beamed about the praise from others, but said it's all part of what a family does -- they take care of each other.
"I love my teammates," Haig said. "Without them, I wouldn't be able to be in the situation to do my job. They deserve all the credit in the world."
This week, that job includes going to East Carolina and getting a win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium -- a place that has not been friendly to the Herd.
With last year's game going overtime, Haig knows it could come down to his right foot once again.
If so, he'll put on his helmet and lead his team in battle.
Because that's what a warrior does.
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