HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The door to the college football bowl season hasn't closed on Marshall University yet.
Justin Haig's career-long 45-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the game allowed the Thundering Herd to squeak out a 44-41 win over Houston, dash the Cougars' bowl aspirations and keep its own alive entering Friday's regular season finale at East Carolina.
"The bottom line is we won the game," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. " We're happy to get it. It's better than the alternative. We still have a lot to play for, and that's a good thing."
It nearly was very bad for the Herd (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) in the final minutes. Leading by three touchdowns halfway into the third quarter, Marshall watched the Cougars (4-7, 3-4 C-USA) storm back into the game behind a 316-yard, five-touchdown performance by backup quarterback Crawford Jones.
But it was when the Cougars finally stalled that gave Marshall its chance to win. Houston had the ball at first and 10 at the Herd's 14, but could only manage a 28-yard Matt Hogan field goal to tie the game at 41-41. Richie Leone's ensuing kickoff bounced out of bounds and gave Marshall the ball at its 35 with 1:18 left in the game.
The Herd reached Houston's 28 thanks to three completions for 22 yards and a 16-yard scramble by quarterback Rakeem Cato. Haig, who has been on muscle relaxers and antibiotics for severe back spasms, trickled his kick over the crossbar, but Houston called a time out and forced him to try again.
His encore kick also made it over to give the game to Marshall.
"We got back in the game, then Marshall made more plays than we did," Houston Coach Tony Levine said. "They're an explosive team. We made some adjustments at halftime to get us back in the game, but it wasn't enough."
Marshall barreled to a 31-10 halftime lead that included three Cato touchdown passes and a wild play from Kevin Grooms, who caught a lateral from a scrambling Cato, reversed field and ran up the left sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.
Cato finished the day with 377 yards on 32-of-50 passing, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a five-yard score in the third quarter. Grooms rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Jones got his 316 yards and five touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing. Kenneth Farrow – taking the lion's share of Houston's carries when starter Charles Sims' ankle forced him back to the sideline – rushed for 78 yards on 14 carries.