— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — FIU found out personally on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon why Marshall University’s Brenden Knox is the top rusher in Conference USA.
Knox carried 33 times for 146 yards and a touchdown on the second play of the Thundering Herd’s possession in overtime to give Marshall a 30-27 win to make Senior Day a success.
FIU got a field goal from Jose Borregales with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime at 24-all, then he connected on a 35-yarder to put the Panthers on top and forced the Herd to at least score.
Knox’s TD run from 1 yard got reviewed, it stood and the announced crowd of 18,526 went home happy.
“The play was wide open,” Knox said of a 24-yard run on the first snap in OT that set up the score. “We took what they gave us. The O-line did the job.”
Marshall finishes 8-4 overall, 6-2 in the league, but FAU claimed the East Division title with its 34-17 win over Southern Miss later Saturday.
FIU (6-6, 3-5) finishes 0-5 in road games on the season.
For Knox, it was his sixth 100-yard game of the year and raised his rushing total to just short of 1,300 yards.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday now has 71 wins over FBS opponents, surpassing the total of 70 by former coach Bob Pruett (70).
“The guys kept fighting,” Holliday said. “Hopefully would step up and find a way to win. We did. How about Knox? That guy’s a man. He’s our MVP. Consistent people, consistent teams get rewarded.”
Earlier in the fourth, Herd quarterback Isaiah Green worked some comeback magic, tossing an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Xavier Gaines with 2:16 left to lift Marshall to a 24-21 lead. On that drive, the Panthers had two pass interference and one offsides call.
On the TD, Gaines ran a flag route and went uncovered.
“I was wide open,” said Gaines, former quarterback who lines up in numerous positions. “When I turned around, I was by myself. At that point, just catch the ball.”
Gaines scored on a 20-yard Statue of Liberty play in the second period, which featured a special package in for that play.
FIU answered with a 48-yard drive over 12 plays to tie the game. James Morgan found Tony Gaiter IV for gains of 11 and 21 yards.
Marshall had a 17-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. Anthony Jones closed a 75-yard drive with a 9-yard TD run on the first play of the period.
On the next snap, Alexy Jean-Baptiste recovered a fumble on the Marshall 22. From there, Morgan dumped the ball over the middle to Tony Gaiter IV, who took it to the end zone for a 21-17 FIU lead.
Morgan, who left briefly after taking a hard hit from Marquis Couch, threw for 236 yards and Gaiter had nine catches for 107. Freshman Kaylan Wiggins took over for Morgan and led the Panthers on a TD drive.
Morgan when hit high and hard by linebacker Marquis Couch on a run and stayed down and Couch was called for targeting. After review, there was no targeting, but Couch did get a 15-yard personal foul call.
Holliday knew the Herd would go on defense first in OT.
“You know what you deal with,” he said.
Before Borregales delivered the game-tying 41-yard field goal, the Herd called timeout twice to ice him, but to no avail.
Marshall honored 17 seniors prior to kickoff. They are: Omari Cobb, Tyler Brown, Marquis Couch, Levi Brown, Armani Levias, Channing Hames, Chris Jackson, Kereon Merrell, Justin Rohrwasser, Matt Beardall, Joey Fields, Milan Lanier, Joey Maddox, Fermin Silva, Alex Thomson, Jackson White and Trent Wilderbrather.
Brown, former quarterback at Spring Valley High School, basked in the outcome.
“This was a very important day for our seniors,” he said. “We needed that. Put the ball in Knox’s hands and let him take over. From Spring Valley to now, it doesn’t get much better than this.”
Green and center Levi Brown agreed.
“We had to find a way to win and we did,” Green said. “Brenden’s been huge for us all year. He does his part to make things happen.”
“As good as it gets,” Brown said. “Living in the now, not worry about the past.”