Marshall football: Haig helps Herd earn victory
HUNTINGTON - Marshall offensive tackle Jordan Jeffries calls kicker Justin Haig "the world's smallest offensive lineman."
Just as 6-foot-8, 313-pound behemoths like Jeffries often must play through pain, so has the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Haig. Bad back spasms have sent Haig to treatment three times a week and put him on antibiotics and muscle relaxers to keep him in the lineup.
"I give a tremendous amount of credit to the training staff," he said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be able to play."
The rest of the Thundering Herd are thankful, too, and not just for the career-long 45-yard field goal that gave Marshall a 44-41 win over Houston on Saturday. Haig also came up with a tricky squib kickoff and a significant tackle.
The tackle came on Houston's attempt at a "Music City Miracle" lateral in the third quarter. Jarrett Irving initially cradled Haig's kickoff, then threw it across the field to Kenneth Farrow, who dashed 61 yards down the left sideline. It was Haig, bad back and all, who tackled Farrow at the Marshall 19. It was Haig's seventh tackle of the season.
"Haig is the best open-field tackler on the team, hands down," Jeffries said. "That's on record. We all say that. He flies down there and there's been numerous occasions where he's saved touchdowns by making a great tackle."
Then came the kickoff that followed Haig's game-winning field goal, his third field goal of the game. That squib bounced awkwardly along the Joan C. Edwards Stadium turf. And when Houston finally tracked it down, all the Cougars could do was fall on the ball at their 19 and try a lateral-fest on their final play.
"I couldn't do that again if you wanted me to," Haig said with a smile. "I couldn't have planned that squib any better."
Haig's performance, especially considering the pain he's fighting through, earned Marshall Coach Doc Holliday's utmost respect.
"Haig's one guy I'll crawl in a foxhole with any day," Holliday said. "He'll fight you. He's mentally tough and I like what that kid's all about."
HAIG'S HEROICS couldn't erase some of the special teams breakdowns, especially on kickoffs, that left Holliday shaking his head.
"Unfortunately, on special teams, that kickoff is awful right now," Holliday said. "You get kids hurt and you have new guys going in there, but we have to fix it quick. That has to happen this week."
It wasn't just the lateral on that third-quarter kickoff that bothered him. Haig and Trent Martin could combine for just one touchback on nine kickoffs. The Herd moved to squib kickoffs due to Haig's back issues. Houston's Ryan Jackson averaged 33.25 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 59-yard return in the second quarter that put the Cougars on Marshall's 36 and led to a 32-yard Matt Hogan field goal.
QUARTERBACK Rakeem Cato might start listening to running back Kevin Grooms a little more after Saturday.
Cato said Grooms always tells him that, if a play breaks down, he'll be open on the back side.
"Usually, it goes in one ear and out the other," Cato said.
But with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Cato was scrambling away from pressure at Marshall's 31 when he heard Grooms screaming his name. Cato flung the ball back to Grooms, who started up the right side of the field, screeched to a stop, then sprinted across the field and up the left sideline.
He skipped away from one diving Houston defender and, 69 yards later, he was in the end zone to give Marshall a 31-10 lead.
Grooms showed off a text message in the in the interview room from a former coach, who wrote Grooms looked like he was still in the park playing Optimist League youth football. With a big smile, he said Cato might look to the back side for him more often.
"Now he knows the truth," Grooms said. "What's in the dark has now come to the light."
Grooms' 155-yard performance against Houston was his third 100-yards rushing day of 2012, the most for a Marshall freshman in a season since Doug Chapman ran for 100 yards six times in 1996. Grooms now has 732 rushing yards on the season, the fourth-best single-season performance by a freshman in Herd history. Only John Zontini (865 yards in 1931), Ron Lear (1,162 yards in 1979) and Chapman (1,238 yards in 1996) are better.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.