HUNTINGTON - The question was innocent enough, but Dominick LeGrande didn't want to answer it.
The Marshall safety apologized profusely to the reporter, extremely polite for a homing missile who averages 11 tackles a game. He just didn't want to even broach the topic of which team he wanted to play in a bowl. The Thundering Herd remained one win away from that reality.
"I don't want to jinx anything," he said.
He and the Herd nearly missed the chance to keep dreaming of their bowl aspirations. It took Marshall's defense finally firming up in the second half and the offense making one last quick-strike drive to allow Justin Haig to trickle a 45-yard field goal over the crossbar with seven seconds left to beat Houston 44-41.
That win kept the Herd (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) alive for a bowl berth heading into Friday's 2 p.m. regular season finale at East Carolina (CBS Sports Network). It also forced the Cougars (4-7, 3-4 C-USA) to stay home for the holidays.
What LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha - LeGrande's inseparable fellow safety and Boston College transfer - were more than ready to discuss was what the Herd needed going into its all-or-nothing showdown with the Pirates (7-4, 6-1 C-USA).
"This has got to be the hardest week of practice we've ever had," Okoroha said. "Out of everyone. Individuals, everyone has to come out. More from everyone. More from us, more from the players, more from the coaches, more from the staff, more from everyone."
The Herd was getting more prayer on the sidelines as the final minutes ticked down. Marshall had staked itself to a three-touchdown lead over the Cougars and held it until halfway through the third quarter. But Cougars stormed back with 31 second-half points. Backup quarterback Crawford Jones, playing in place of injured starter David Piland, threw for 316 yards and five touchdowns. Kenneth Farrow - taking the lion's share of Houston's carries after starter Charles Sims' bum ankle forced him to the sideline - rushed for a team-high 78 yards.
Yet Houston's backup brigade finally stalled out at the Marshall 11 with 1:18 left in the game. The Cougars had to settle for a 28-yard Matt Hogan field goal to tie the game at 41-41, rather than a touchdown to take the lead.
"Me and (receiver) Tommy (Shuler) were talking on the sideline, saying something's got to give," quarterback Rakeem Cato said. "We were praying on the sidelines, just talking to God. Something was going to happen. Then the defense came up with the stop, and that's when God struck."