BOCA RATON, Fla. — Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has long said that winning conference games comes down to one or two plays.
On Friday night, Marshall got those plays on both sides of the ball to earn a 36-31 win over Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida.
Brenden Knox rushed for 220 yards, including the game-winning 17-yard touchdown, with 36 seconds left and Steven Gilmore secured an interception to put Marshall right back in the thick of the Conference USA East Division race.
“It’s just a part of our coach preaching being reliable and show up when your number is called,” Knox said. “That’s pretty much all it is. The big plays from everybody else helped the momentum.”
The game was back-and-forth throughout the final period, but Marshall was able to find a way to get the game — a needed boost for a team who had struggled on the road in losses this season.
“What a win and what a great football game it was,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “It was hard-fought and I’m so proud of our players. They just kept overcoming adversity and every time we got adversity, we came back and answered.”
The game came down to the wire with Marshall making each of the game’s biggest plays.
Knox’s scoring run with 36 seconds left was followed by Gilmore’s interception on FAU’s first ensuing play — a welcome sight for Holliday, who has seen his defense close to making those plays without securing one in several weeks.
“Gilmore at the right time, man,” Holliday said. “We didn’t have Chris Jackson — Chris was out this whole game … Gilmore and Sapp and a couple of guys had to go in there and get it done. I’m just proud that they did.”
Robison finished with 362 yards passing, but did not have a touchdown pass and was sacked on seven occasions by the Herd defense, who also held FAU to 57 rushing yards on 36 carries.
Marshall (4-3, 2-1 Conference USA) earned the win in a wild fourth quarter in which the game went back-and-forth on several occasions.
Prior to Knox’s run, Florida Atlantic took a 31-30 lead on Malcolm Davidson’s 2-yard touchdown run that followed Robison moving the ball down-field through the passing game.
Robison’s favorite target was Deangelo Antoine, who caught seven passes for 111 yards on the evening.
It was one of four fourth-quarter lead changes in the contest.
Davidson’s score followed Isaiah Green’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Florida native Willie Johnson, who got in behind the secondary and used his speed to get to the end zone. That score countered a 1-yard scoring run from Robison — his second of the game — that gave FAU a 24-22 lead.
Marshall entered the fourth with a 22-17 lead on the strength of its defense that got a pair of stops on fourth down to stop possessions while adding a safety on a sack from Tyler Brown, who had two in the contest.
As it turned out, Knox finished strong in both halves of this one.
Marshall and Florida Atlantic went into the locker room tied at 17 after the Herd established momentum late in the half.
Green had thrown an interception, which led to a 32-yard field goal from Vladmir Rivas that expanded FAU’s lead to 17-10 and it appeared that momentum would continue after Sheldon Evans was called for a kickoff fair catch infraction that pinned the Herd at the 7-yard line.
However, Knox ripped off a 43-yard run on the first play of the drive and later gashed the Owls’ defense for a 31-yard run before capping the drive with a 1-yard plunge with 13 seconds left that knotted the game going into the locker room.
Prior to that drive, Marshall had just 13 yards rushing, but Knox accounted for all but eight yards — three on a run by Green and five on an off-sides call — on the 93-yard drive.
The halftime tie was a boost going into the locker room after Florida Atlantic jumped out to a two-score lead late in the first quarter as Robison started strong.
Robison led drives of 75 and 55 yards with each capped by 1-yard touchdown runs. Robison called his own number to give the Owls the early lead before a Larry McCammon run pushed the lead to 14-3 with 1:59 remaining in the first.
Marshall center Levi Brown said the team stayed together despite the early adversity.
“We’re a very mature team,” Brown said. “We had to keep everyone tight, keep everyone close and let them know that we’re still in this game.”
Marshall quickly answered when Isaiah Green hit Armani Levias for a 59-yard score just 57 seconds later on a critical third-down conversion that pulled the Herd back within a score. On the play, Levias broke a pair of tackles over the middle before racing to the end zone.
Levias’ presence was critical to the Herd’s early success in the game.
Green finished 15-of-24 for 206 yards with two scores and the interception in the win. Levias caught four passes for 70 yards to lead the way.
With Broc Thompson — Marshall’s leading receiver in the win over Old Dominion — sidelined due to injury, the Herd incorporated three tight ends on the field with at least one lining up split out wide to produce favorable matchups.
In addition to the touchdown, Levias drew a pair of pass interference penalties that helped produce Rohrwasser’s 30-yard field goal to start the game’s scoring.
“Armani is a big, tall guy,” Holliday said. “It was great to see him and X (Xavier Gaines) made some plays. We just did what we had to do to win a game.”
The win puts Marshall right back in the heart of the Conference USA East Division race leading into next week’s Homecoming affair with Western Kentucky, which is set for 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26.