HUNTINGTON — A concern for Marshall and head coach Doc Holliday coming into Saturday’s homecoming game against Conference USA East Division leader Western Kentucky was the loss of strong safety Brandon Drayton and the questionable status of a few others entering the game
Those players filling in figured to be challenged by Western Kentucky but they surprisingly held their own against the Hilltoppers’ Lucky Jackson and Quin Jernighan in the Thundering Herd’s 26-23 win Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Indeed, Western Kentucky worked Jackson against Steven Gilmore, mostly, and the redshirt senior from Lexington, Kentucky, recorded nine receptions for 79 yards in the first half. In the second half, Jackson hauled in another seven receptions for 89.
None of those catches produced a touchdown for WKU.
“Doc always says ‘competitive excellence’ — that means when your number is called be able to do your job,” said Kereon Merrell, a redshirt senior cornerback who recorded 10 tackles. “I mean we’re all gritty enough to be in one-on-one situations and when (Holliday) will put you in those situations so he expects you to make the play.”
Merrell accounted for two turnovers. The first was an interception on Western Kentucky’s opening drive that Merrell said he “made with my eyes.” Later in the half he recovered a fumble forced by a sack by defensive lineman Marquis Couch.
The Thundering Herd converted both of those turnovers into the first 14 points of the game.
THE KICK: Holliday started his postgame news conference with a question for the media.
“Well, how many of you guys thought (Justin Rohrwasser) was going to make that field goal?” Holliday joked referring to his placekicker who made a career-long 53-yard field goal that took the remaining six seconds of play clock and won the game for Marshall.
In truth, Rohrwasser made the kick three times, including the final attempt that counted. Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton used his final two timeouts in an attempt to “ice” the kicker.
Each time the ball was snapped and Rohrwasser unleashed kicks that would have been good.
Holliday said he wasn’t sure his redshirt senior kicker from Clifton Park, New York could make the kick from that distance but said Rohrwasser assured him he could make it.
“He can have five game balls if he wants them,” Holliday quipped.
Rohrwasser made four field goals on the day. His first was from 46 yards at 13:30 of the second quarter and then from 31 yards 34 seconds before halftime. Rohrwasser’s third came from 43 yards at 6:23 of the third.
On the final play alone, Rohrwasser got three shots at the 53 yarder because of the timeouts called by Helton.
“I have a natural draw. Both the last two actually did that and the first one was straight which is usually a miss for me,” Rohrwasser said. “I want a chance. Give a chance and I’ll give you the best I got.”
HERD RISES: After the conclusion of the first quarter, Marshall unveiled its campaign for raising money for the long-awaited baseball stadium, research and scholarships among other projects with “The Herd Rises” campaign.
Fireworks were set off from the rooftop of the Shewey Athletic Building and two banners — one on each end of the video board hanging from the building — were revealed.
HERD ROYALTY: Ella Ellis was named Marshall’s homecoming queen at halftime Saturday.
Parker D’Antoni, nephew of Herd men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni, was named Mr. Marshall.
1968 TEAM HONORED: during the first quarter of the contest members of Marshall’s 1968 football team were honored on the field.
NEXT UP: Marshall travels to Rice Nov. 2 for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff that will be broadcast on Facebook.