EDITOR’S NOTE: Marshall University’s football victory over Bowling Green was one of the more-stunning upsets in college football history.
Coach Don Nehlen’s Falcons were heavy favorites and figured to easily run over the Young Thundering Herd, which entered 1-5. Nehlen even had bragged earlier in the week that Marshall couldn’t run against Bowling Green. After the game, Nehlen was disappointed but complimentary of the Herd.
Following is the story from that Oct. 30, 1971, game:
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s Young Thundering Herd, doing exactly what Bowling Green coaches said it couldn’t do, ran around and through the Falcons’ defense Saturday en route to a 12-10 upset victory at Fairfield Stadium.
Playing before a Homecoming Day crowd of 14,110 — the largest in MU sports history — the Herd struck for its first touchdown in the second quarter on a four-yard run off tackle by sophomore halfback John Johnstonbaugh and added the clincher early in the final period when reserve quarterback Dave Walsh went in from the two.
Bowling Green, coming off an impressive 33-7 victory over Miami, scored its only touchdown on a 20-yard pass play in the last quarter. The Falcons had also scored earlier on a 27-yard field goal.
“Our kids rose to the occasion,” MU Coach Jack Lengyel said in the Herd dressing room moments after the game. “This was no fluke.”
MU, surprising the Falcons by staying primarily on the ground, started its first touchdown drive on its own 45 yard line with 14:49 remaining in the second quarter.
Aided by two BG penalties, the Herd moved to the Falcon four in 11 plays where Johnstonbaugh — the game’s leading rusher — found daylight on the right side and went in standing up for the touchdown.
“We made the big play when we needed it most,” Lengyel said. “There were so many important ones, it’s difficult to pick the biggest one out.”
And, in that first scoring drive, MU did what it wasn’t supposed to do — run the football on Bowling Green’s touted defense. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t a single pass in the march to the end zone. Only Wednesday Falcon Coach Don Nehlen said, “Marshall doesn’t have the personnel to hurt us on the ground.”
At first the Herd appeared to by stymied on its own 45, but freshman punter Bob Eshbaugh was roughed after getting his kick away. The penalty gave MU a first down at the Falcon 40.
Johnstonbaugh struggled for one yard up the middle, before taking a pitch from starting quarterback Reggie Oliver and racing 12 yards to the 27 and another first down.
Fullback Terry Gardner tried the left end for no gain. Johnstonbaugh picked up six through the middle, and on third and four, Oliver raced 18 yards to the three on a keeper around the left side.
After Ed Wilson lost a yard, Johnstonbaugh sprinted through a hole made by tackle Jack Crabtree for the touchdown.
The victory was Marshall’s second of the season, but the bigger one as far as Lengyel was concerned.
“We proved that we could beat a good football team,” Lengyel said. “Bowling Green came in here with a chance to get into a bowl game, so that says something for us.”
For Bowling Green, playing for the time ever on Astroturf, the defeat was especially painful. It was only its second of the year.
“It’s a long way to come to lose,” Nehlen said. “But Marshall simply outhit us.”
In the first half, BG’s deepest penetration carried to the MU 21. It ended, however, when quarterback Reid Lamport was dumped for a four-yard loss as time ran out in the second quarter.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, Marshall failed to move the football, but Eshbaugh, standing on the goal line, boomed a 62-yard punt, and after an eight-yard return, BG had the ball on its 36.
Unable to dent the MU line, Lamport went to the air, and in 11 plays he guided the Falcons to a first down on the Herd’s 11-yard line.
There, however, Marshall’s defense stiffened.
Two running plays produced only one yard, and on third and nine, defensive back Felix Jordan knocked down a pass attempt at the goal line.
Sophomore Bill Witte came on to kick the field goal.
Marshall’s second scoring drive started at its own 20 near the end of the of the third quarter. The march, engineered by both Oliver and Walsh, required 15 plays.
Faced with a third and ten situation on the 20, Oliver tossed a screen pass to halfback Ned Burks who, behind a wall of blockers, raced down the left sideline to the BG 45.
Two plays later, Oliver found Kelly Sherwood on a down-and-out pattern to the left and the Herd had another first down at the 30.
After a pass incompletion, Oliver skirted the right end for five yards, but was slightly injured on the play and was replaced by Walsh.
Unable to find a receiver, Walsh lost three to the 28. Then, in what might have been the most critical play of the game, the 6-2, 185-pound product of Suffolk, Va., hit flanker Lanny Steed at the 23, and Steed carried two BG defenders to the 20 to give the Herd a first down.
Burks got a yard up the middle, Walsh swept the left side for right, and Burks bulled through the middle again, this time for six yards and a first down at the five.
Walsh got two on a keeper and Burks went over guard for one before Walsh dashed the final two yards for the touchdown. The conversion try for two points failed.
But Bowling Green, which had averaged almost four touchdowns a game, struck right back.
Taking the ensuing kickoff at the seven, sophomore wingback Tony Bell returned 73 yards before being knocked out of bounds by Gary Morgan at the MU 20. On the first play from scrimmage, Lamport passed to split end Rick Newman who was all alone in the end zone.
The Falcons, already assured of at a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference, got a big break on MU’s next series of plays when Walsh, needing two yards for a first down, fumbled at midfield and BG recovered.
Tailback Paul Miles, the nation’s fourth-best rusher, picked up nine yards in two carries, but after an incomplete pass and the Falcons’ needing a yard for a first down, he was stopped for no gain by the heart of the MU defensive line.
“Our defense gave us their best on that one,” Lengyel said. “We tried to rest them some when we could, and we didn’t tire out as quickly.”
With time becoming an all-important factor, Marshall took over with 7:47 to play. Walsh, still in at quarterback, led the Herd to the Falcons’ 26 before giving up the ball on downs.
MU, however, had used four minutes in the march which was highlighted by a 29-yard Walsh-to-Steed pass play.
In a last-gasp effort to get the go-ahead touchdown, BG again abandoned its running game, but this time the Falcons’ passing was effective.
Lamport, calling mostly sideline patterns, completed four of five attempts and with 1:31 remaining in the game, BG had a first down at the Marshall 21.
A running play got a yard, a pass fell incomplete, and Miles was nailed after a one-yard pickup on a screen pass.
With 1:16 to go, Witte tried a 37-yard field goal, but the ball sailed off to the right.
Using three running plays, MU ran out the clock.
Statistically, Marshall also had the edge, amassing 330 yards, five more than the Falcons. The Herd had 193 yards on the ground to BG’s 127. The Falcons entered the game ranked ninth in rushing offense.
Marshall goes to Kent State Saturday before returning to Fairfield where it closes out the season against Toledo and Ohio University.