HERD ZONE: Rohrwasser's Heroics Give Marshall Dramatic Homecoming Win

Updated 1 year ago
HERD ZONE: Rohrwasser's Heroics Give Marshall Dramatic Homecoming Win

by Chuck McGill

The game was tied, and with six seconds on the clock, Marshall football coach Doc Holliday looked at his kicker, Justin Rohrwasser.

The ball was on the 36-yard line, and a steady rain had been falling in the latter part of the fourth quarter. The ramifications of the kick – the winning team would wrest control of the Conference USA East Division – were significant. The conditions weren't ideal. The kick was lengthy – 7 yards longer than the career-long Rohrwasser had made earlier in the game. And, Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton had a couple of timeouts to burn in the name of gamesmanship.

"He told me he was going to make it," Holliday said of Rohrwasser, "so I said 'Let's go win the game.'"

Rohrwasser unofficially made the kick two times as Helton was twice granted a timeout a moment before the snap, and then calmly drilled the third try as the final second ticked off the clock, giving Marshall a 26-23 win against WKU on Saturday. As the ball curved from right to left through the uprights in front of the Shewey Building, Thundering Herd players and coaches poured onto the field to celebrate. Rohrwasser was mobbed by teammates, and then surrounded by media. The senior kicker was the last player to leave the field after circling Joan C. Edwards Stadium and greeting every fan standing in the front row.

"Every bus ride to a game since you're in high school, as a kicker, this is what you dream about," Rohrwasser said. "I'm lucky it happened to me."

Rohrwasser is being modest, as he has proven his success has little to do with luck. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Clifton Park, New York, made all four of his field goal attempts Saturday, and is now 11-for-11 on the season. He has made 12 consecutive field goals overall, connecting from distances of 46 yards, 31 yards, 43 yards and 53 yards against the Hilltoppers.

Marshall sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green scrambled for 6 yards on the previous play and stepped out of bounds at the WKU 36 to set up the final play. Green's savvy play stopped the clock, a heady move because the Herd had spent all three of its timeouts.

The Herd offense started the drive at its own 13 with 1:21 left, and gained 51 yards on 10 plays to give Rohrwasser a chance. Green completed 4 of 5 passes for 24 yards on the drive, and sophomore running back Brenden Knox carried twice for 21 yards. Green picked up the other 6 on his own.

"I thought our offense did a great job of getting that thing in field position where we could actually kick that field goal," Holliday said. "It was a little longer than I wanted to be; I wasn't sure he could kick it that far."

Rohrwasser did, and etched his name among the greatest kicking performances in school history.

The 53-yard field goal is tied for the fourth-longest made kick in school history, and tied for the fourth-longest made kick in stadium history. Rohrwasser tied a school record with four made field goals, equaling the four made by David Merrick (East Tennessee State, 1993), Tim Openlander (The Citadel, 1995), Billy Malashevich (Miami, 1999) and Justin Haig (Louisiana Tech, 2014). Rohrwasser scored 14 points, tied for the third-most in school history (four others).

Holliday presented Rohrwasser with the game ball in the locker room.

"He can have five game balls if he wants them," Holliday said. "That was special."

The end-game heroics came after Marshall squandered a 17-point first half lead and a 16-point lead as late as 6:23 left of the third quarter.

Marshall started fast, intercepting WKU quarterback Ty Storey on the opening drive and then scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession. Senior defensive back Kereon Merrell intercepted his first pass at Marshall to give the Herd the ball, and then Green found senior tight end Armani Levias for a 25-yard touchdown to open scoring.

The Marshall offense padded the lead a few minutes later, going 56 yards on three plays, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Green to put the Herd up 14-0 with 6:56 left of the first quarter.

Rohrwasser made what was then a career-long 46-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give Marshall a 17-0 lead on Homecoming. He added a second field goal with 34 seconds left of the half to give the Herd a 20-7 advantage at intermission, and then his third quarter field goal pushed the lead to 16, 23-7, with 6:23 left of the third quarter.

WKU then made its comeback, scoring 16 unanswered points over the next 15:14 of the game. Storey scored on a 1-yard sneak with 45 seconds left of the third quarter, but after a penalty, the extra point was missed and Marshall held a 23-13 lead.

The Hilltoppers made it a one-possession game when kicker Cory Munson made a 27-yard field goal with 12:10 left of the fourth quarter. Then, junior running back Gaej Walker ran up the middle and dove into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown on a third-and-four play with 6:19 left of the game. The extra point tied the game, 23-23.

"We knew going in that was going to be a game that came down to one or two plays," Holliday said, "and it came down to one."

The last three games in the series have been won by Marshall, but the margins were slim: 7 points in 2017; 3 points in 2018 and 3 points on Saturday.

"I'm proud of our team," Holliday said. "That's a big win for us."

The reason is simple: Marshall is now 5-3 overall and 3-1 in Conference USA, while WKU is 5-3 overall and 4-1 in league play. While the Hilltoppers have one more win, the teams are tied in the loss column and the Herd has the tiebreaker.

Statistically, Green finished 20 for 31 passing for 230 yards and one touchdown. Knox carried 19 times for 84 yards, helping the Herd to 170 rushing yards against a team ranked in the top 25 in rush defense. WKU entered Saturday's game allowing 2.96 yards per play, but Marshall gained 5.0 yards per rushing attempt. The Hilltoppers had not allowed a rush longer than 20 yards all season, and sophomore running back Sheldon Evans had a 21-yard gain, and then junior receiver Willie Johnson had a 42-yard run – the two longest the Hilltoppers have allowed in 2019.

Levias set a career-high with 10 receptions, gaining 77 yards. Freshman receiver Broc Thompson had three receptions for 91 yards.

Senior linebacker Omari Cobb finished with a team-high 13 tackles, which is also a new career-high for him. Merrell finished with 10 tackles – eight solo – an interception and a fumble recovery.

Senior defensive end Marquis Couch recorded a career-high three sacks and forced two fumbles.

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