HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It’s unknown if the punch bowl was spiked, but the celebrated elixir at this homecoming party definitely had some kick to it.
Senior Justin Rohrwasser booted a career-long 53-yard field goal as time expired, allowing the Marshall football team to claim a thrilling 26-23 victory over visiting Western Kentucky in a Conference USA East Division matchup at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Rohrwasser — who entered Saturday a perfect 8-of-8 on field goal attempts — converted kicks from 46, 31, 43 and 53 yards, plus added a pair of successful PAT boots.
In fact, Rohrwasser ended up making all eight of his kicks on the day — including a pair of gut-wrenching boots that ended up not counting.
Tied at 23-all, the Thundering Herd (5-3, 3-1 CUSA East) started the game-winning drive from their own 13 with 1:21 left in regulation. MU managed to get the ball down to the WKU 36 with six seconds remaining before burning a timeout.
The Hilltoppers (5-3, 4-1) spent consecutive timeouts just before the ball was snapped, but Rohrwasser ended up hitting both kicks after the timeouts were called — and both ended up splitting the uprights.
Out of timeouts, all Western Kentucky could do was watch as Rohrwasser’s third attempt sailed through the uprights as time expired — wrapping up the 3-point triumph.
The Green and White never trailed in regulation as the hosts forced takeaways on Western Kentucky’s first two offensive possessions — which resulted in a pair of first quarter scores.
Armani Levias hauled in a 25-yard pass from Isaiah Green at the 10:42 mark for a 7-0 cushion, then Green rumbled for four yards at the 6:56 mark for a 14-point cushion.
Rohrwasser’s first field goal of the day was — at the time — a career-best as the 46-yarder went in at the 13:30 mark of the second quarter, giving MU its largest lead at 17-0.
Both teams traded punts on their ensuing drives, but WKU answered with a 7-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a Gaej Walker 33-yard touchdown run — making it a 17-7 contest with 4:14 left in the first half.
The Herd, however, countered with a 7-play, 61-yard drive of their own as Rohrwasser converted a 31-yard field goal for a 20-7 advantage with 34 seconds remaining.
Both teams traded punts to start the second half, but MU followed with a 9-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a 43-yard Rohrwasser field goal — giving the hosts a 23-7 edge with 6:23 remaining in the third.
The Hilltoppers responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Ty Storey 1-yard run, trimming the deficit down to 23-13 with 45 seconds left in the third period.
Cory Munson added a 27-yard field goal with 12:10 left in regulation to close to within seven, then Walker capped an 8-play, 80-yard drive with 6:19 remaining as his 16-yard run knotted things up at 23-all.
Besides the missed extra point in the third quarter, Munson also came up empty on a 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter.
Marshall did not commit a turnover and ended the day plus-3 in turnover differential, which included 14 points off of those takeaways. The Herd also recorded four of the five sacks in the contest.
WKU claimed a 25-20 advantage in first downs and also claimed a 426-401 edge in total yards of offense. The hosts won the battle on the ground by a 171-134 margin.
Brenden Knox led MU with 84 rushing yards on 19 carries, followed by Willie Johnson with 42 yards on a single attempt.
Green ran seven times for 12 yards and completed 20-of-31 passes for 230 yards, which included one touchdown. Levias led the wideouts with 10 catches for 77 yards, while Broc Thompson added three hrabs for 91 yards.
Omari Cobb led the Herd defense with 13 tackles and Steven Gilmore added 11 stops. Kereon Merrell made 10 tackles, recovered a fumble and also came up with an interception. Marquis Couch also recorded three sacks.
Walker led the Hilltoppers with 102 rushing yards on 12 carries. Storey completed 31-of-43 pass attempts for 292 yards, with Lucky Jackson leading the receivers with 16 catches for 168 yards.
Antwon Kincaid led the WKU defense with 15 tackles. Jalen Madden recorded a sack in the setback.
Marshall has now won three straight decisions and returns to action Saturday when it travels to Houston for a Conference USA matchup with Rice at 3:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.