HUNTINGTON — In their final regular season game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Marshall’s seniors got a little extra time to enjoy playing on the turf.
According to Marshall senior Levi Brown, the result is also something that those players will remember for life.
Brenden Knox followed Brown and the offensive line into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown that gave Marshall a 30-27 overtime win over FIU in front of an announced crowd of 18,596 on a soggy Saturday in Huntington.
While the weather was bad, Brown said the emotions of the win were all sunshine.
“When that play happened, there’s just so much emotion,” Brown said. “People are ripping helmets off and … so happy for everyone. I’ve said it many times that this is the happiest and the most fun that the Marshall football team has had in my five years.
“These guys, I would lay my life down every day for my offensive line, as well as our guys on the team. Having so much fun and being a group, emotion like that is a huge payoff for when great things happen.”
The tone was immediately set in overtime when Marshall’s defense forced FIU into a 35-yard field goal from Jose Borregales.
Marshall’s defensive stop gave the Thundering Herd momentum and the offensive line took care of the rest, forging a large hole that Knox broke through for a 24-yard run that set up his game-winner. Knox rushed a career-high 33 times for 146 yards and the final score.
“Really, it was the offensive line not taking no for an answer in any situation that we faced,” Knox said. “That’s what it all came down to. Everybody else just had to match their mentality.”
Playing in rainy conditions for the second-straight game, Marshall’s offense struggled again to get its passing game going, but found it at the right time.
Needing a touchdown late in regulation, Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green found Xavier Gaines open for an 18-yard score to re-establish a 24-21 advantage.
It was Gaines’ second score of the day, and the junior tight end said it was also nerve-wracking, given that a blown coverage left him all alone in the corner of the end zone.
“I was a little surprised,” Gaines said. “The safety was supposed to follow me, but he went to the other side where Armani was … . Once he went that way and I saw that, I came out of the corner all by myself. I just had to complete the play. I caught that with my body. I had to secure that.”
Marshall (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) controlled things for much of the first three quarters, but all it took was 18 seconds for the Panthers to turn a two-score deficit into an advantage.
After FIU running back Anthony Jones scored on a 9-yard run on the first play of the fourth, Green bobbled the initial snap of Marshall’s next possession into the arms of FIU’s Alexy Jean-Baptiste, giving FIU possession deep in Herd territory.
FIU (6-6, 3-5 C-USA) cashed in on the next play when quarterback James Morgan hit Tony Gaiter IV for a 22-yard score. Gaiter finished with nine receptions for 107 yards and the score.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said the Herd recognized it would face adversity at some point, and his team responded accordingly.
“We knew it was going to be a fight,” Holliday said. “FIU has got some players, as we all know. I thought our guys just kept fighting. A game like that, you win it, you lose it, you win it and lose it. You just hope at the end of the day that you step up and find a way to win that game.”
Field position was Marshall’s best friend in the contest, thanks to the punting of Marshall punter Robert LeFevre, who had four punts downed inside the FIU 12, forcing the Panthers into long fields early.
“We flipped the field several times,” Holliday said. “You get into a game like that and field position is so important in that weather.”
Marshall took advantage of its field position victory in the third quarter to produce a 10-point lead, driving 50 yards in 12 plays, with Green walking in on fourth down for a 1-yard score that put the Herd up 17-7 with 7 minutes left in the third.
Gaines’ first touchdown in the second quarter gave Marshall a 10-7 halftime advantage and snapped a string of nearly six quarters without finding the end zone.
After Knox helped move Marshall into the red zone, Gaines took a handoff on a Statue of Liberty and went into the end zone for a 20-yard score.
With the win, Marshall gets to eight victories for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Holliday also earned his 71st win over FBS competition, which pushes him past former head coach Bobby Pruett (70, 1996-2004) in that category. Pruett still holds the Marshall all-time record for coaching wins, having coached one season (1996) against FCS — known then as Division I-AA — competition and went 15-0.