Last-second field goal sinks Hilltoppers on the road at Marshall

WKU wide receiver Jacquez Sloan (2) is brought down by Marshall’s Kereon Merrell (5) and Steven Gilmore (34) at Joan C. Edwards stadium on October 26, 2019 in Huntington, WV. WKU lost 26-23.

Alec Jessie

The WKU football team (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) fell down 17-0 early in the second quarter against Marshall (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) on Saturday, but the Hilltoppers stormed back to tie the game 23-23 with 6:17 left to play in Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, West Virginia.

Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser, who’d already established a new career-long field goal with a 46-yarder earlier in the game, was forced to make a 53-yard field goal attempt three separate times after head coach Tyson Helton called two timeouts in an attempt to ice the redshirt senior.

But fate wasn’t on the side of the Hilltoppers— Rohrwasser knocked it in easily each time, and WKU had its four-game winning streak snapped in heartbreaking fashion against its Conference USA rival.

Helton said “it was [Marshall’s] day,” which was evidenced by the fact Rohrwasser made all three of his field goal attempts even after he was iced heavily.

“It was a hard-fought game,” Helton said postgame. “It was just one of those great conference games. We had our chance down the stretch offensively. They were to hold us. We punted the ball down there. They made a really good drive and at the end of the day they make a great, long field goal. It was one for them.”

Graduate transfer quarterback Ty Storey completed 31-of-43 passes for 292 yards and no touchdowns. Senior receiver Lucky Jackson caught 16 passes for 168 yards.

Jackson’s 16 catches are the most by any Football Bowl Subdivision receiver in a single game this regular season.

Redshirt junior running back Gaej Walker ran for 102 yards on his 12 carries, while freshman kicker Cory Munson went 1 for 2 on field goal attempts.

Jackson said Rohrwasser made the most of his chances, and it proved to be a difference in the game.

“He’s resilient,” Jackson said about Rohrwasser postgame. “Shout out to him. He had three opportunities and he nailed all three of them. I can’t really say too much about that.”

Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green completed 20-of-31 passes for 230 yards. Running back Brenden Knox rushed 19 times for 84 yards, while wide receiver Armani Levias caught 10 passes for 77 yards.

Rohrwasser went 4 for 4 on field goal attempts, including a career-long 53-yard field goal to win the game.

Marshall had 401 yards of total offense, the most yardage the WKU defense has allowed in conference play. WKU’s three first half turnovers proved to be too much to overcome.

Junior safety Antwon Kincade said the offense helped keep the Hilltoppers in the game, but the defense wasn’t good enough for the squad to come out on top.

“It was a good job by our offense,” Kincade said postgame. “The offense had our back this game. Marshall came out the last possession, driving. We gave up too many yards. They had a great kicker and he made a great field goal.”

Marshall won the opening coin toss, elected to defer and WKU received the opening kickoff.

The Hilltoppers got the game started with a first down on a pass from Storey to Quin Jernighan. Jackson followed it up with another first down reception, and WKU seemed to be in business.

But the very next play spelled disaster for WKU. The Hilltoppers attempted a trick play, with Jacquez Sloan getting the call to throw a pass from the backfield. Sloan’s passing attempt sailed, and it was subsequently picked off by Marshall defensive back Kereon Merrell.

Marshall began its first possession on its own 42 after the WKU turnover. Knox ran the ball for a first down on a third-and-2 play and the Thundering Herd were in Hilltopper territory for the first time. Knox soon rushed 11 yards for another first down to the WKU 25-yard line.

Marshall would quickly cash in on the WKU turnover, converting a 25-yard completion from Green to Levias into a touchdown. Marshall led 7-0 with 10:42 left in the first quarter.

Sloan rebounded from the pick, notching a 37-yard kickoff return to give the WKU offense good field possession to begin its second drive.

Jackson caught his second first down pass, this time picking up 13 yards to get WKU to the  Marshall 44-yard line. The Hilltoppers faced a third-and-2 play at the Marshall 36-yard line, but Storey committed the second turnover of the game when he fumbled while being sacked.

Marquis Couch had the sack, while Merrell picked up his second takeaway of the game.

Marshall began its second drive on its own 44. Marshall wide receiver Bryce Thompson caught a 54-yard pass from Green to give Marshall a first-and-goal play from the WKU 4-yard line.

Green would run the ball in from the 4-yard line himself for Marshall’s second score of the game. The Thundering Herd led 14-0 with 6:56 left in the first quarter.

Freshman receiver Dayton Wade had WKU’s second good kickoff return on the day, racking up a 43-yard return that gave the Hilltoppers good starting field position once again.

Jackson got the drive going with another first down reception of eight yards, and he followed it up with a 27-yard catch from Storey to get WKU in the red zone. The WKU drive stalled out from there, and Munson couldn’t convert a 32-yard field goal attempt.

Running back Sheldon Evans got the Thundering Herd going with a 21-yard rush to start the drive. WKU defensive back Ta’Corian Darden was called for defensive pass interference on third down, extending the Marshall drive when it seemed like the Hilltoppers might get off the field. 

Knox converted a fourth-and-2 play with a 4-yard rush to the WKU 28-yard line. The Thundering Herd drive stretched into the second quarter, and it eventually ended in a field goal attempt. 

Rohrwasser converted a then-career-long 46-yard field goal, and the Thundering Herd took a 17-0 advantage over WKU with 13:30 left in the half.

Redshirt sophomore running back KeShawn McClendon began the drive with a 24-yard run to get WKU back into Marshall territory. Jackson extended the WKU drive with an 8-yard catch, giving the Hilltoppers a first-and-10 play at the Marshall 30-yard line.

WKU couldn’t take advantage of good field position, and was forced to punt after Storey took a sack for a loss of two yards on third down. Marshall took over at its own 20 after the punt.

The WKU finally forced a punt, with Marshall going three-and-out on its fourth drive of the day.

WKU took over at its own 39-yard line after the punt, and Jahcour Pearson got in on the action for the first time with a 10-yard reception. Storey picked up another first down with his legs on a third-and-1 play at the Marshall 42-yard line, keeping the drive alive a little longer.

Walker soon broke free for a big rush, and the Marshall defense wasn’t able to catch him on his way to a 33-yard touchdown. WKU then trailed 17-7 with 4:14 left before the halftime break.

Green completed a 16-yard pass to Devin Miller to start the drive. Willie Johnson got loose for a 42-yard rush soon after, and Marshall was back in the red zone once again.

Both teams called timeouts, and Marshall eventually settled for a field goal try.

Rohrwasser converted the 31-yard attempt for the Thundering Herd, and Marshall led 20-7 with 34 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

A late targeting call cost Marshall’s Fermin Silva the rest of the game, and it also gave WKU an automatic first down. Pearson picked up another first down a couple of plays later, but the Hilltoppers weren’t able to get into a consistent rhythm before the first half elapsed.

After Storey’s Hail Mary attempt was picked off, Marshall took its 20-7 lead into halftime.

Storey completed 14-of-20 passes for 117 yards with an interception and lost a fumble. Walker ran for 57 yards on seven attempts an a touchdown. Jackson caught nine passes for 79 yards.

Green completed 7-of-8 passes for 109 yards and a passing and rushing touchdown. Knox turned nine carries into 25 yards. Levias caught four passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.

Marshall had 109 yards of rushing and passing, good for 218 total yards of offense. WKU had more first downs with a 12-9 edge, but three first-half turnovers were the difference in the opening half — Marshall turned three WKU turnovers into 14 points.

Marshall received the second-half kickoff after winning the opening toss and electing to defer.

Broc Thompson started the possession with a 25-yard reception to the 50-yard line. Knox picked up another first down, and Marshall seemed to be on the move yet again.

The WKU defense was able to force a stop, and the offense took over at its own 20.

Pearson couldn’t haul in a pass on a third-and-2 play, and WKU was forced to punt the ball back to Marshall. The Thundering Herd took over at their own 17 after a penalty on the return.

Levias kept the Marshall drive alive with a 13-yard reception to the Marshall 39-yard line on a third-and-1 play. Safety Devon Key was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty soon after, which moved the ball to the WKU 45-yard line.

Wide receiver Corey Gammage moved the sticks again with a 12-yard catch to the WKU 33-yard line, but Marshall was eventually forced to settle for yet another field goal try.

Rohrwasser converted the 43-yard field goal attempt, and Marshall extended its lead to 23-7 with 6:23 left to play in the third quarter.

Sloan moved the chains with a 9-yard reception to begin the drive, while Jackson got WKU into Thundering Herd territory with a 30-yard reception.

Pearson got WKU into the red zone with a 15-yard reception, and a defensive pass interference call on Marshall defender Chris Jackson gave WKU a first-and-goal at the Marshall 2-yard line.

The Hilltoppers weren’t able to move the ball successfully over four downs, but they were bailed out by another defensive pass interference penalty on Jackson on fourth down.

Storey punched the ball in from the 1-yard line to score a touchdown, but the Hilltoppers were called for a false start on what appeared to be a successful two-point conversion attempt.

Munson was called upon to kick an extra point after the penalty, but he couldn’t convert the extra point. WKU then trailed 23-13 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.

Marshall recovered a failed WKU onside kick attempt, and the Thundering Herd took over at the Hilltoppers’ 45. WKU forced a three-and-out, and Marshall then punted to end the third quarter.

Pearson got the drive started with a 22-yard gain for a WKU first down. Jernighan got the WKU offense inside Marshall territory with a 13-yard reception to the Marshall 48-yard line, while Walker got the ball inside the Marshall 10-yard line after a 21-yard run.

After the drive stalled, Munson converted a 27-yard field goal. WKU was within a score after the successful field goal attempt, down 23-16 with 12:10 left in the game.

Johnson caught a 9-yard pass to pick up a first down at the beginning of the drive and Knox picked up another first down with his legs, but the WKU defense eventually forced a punt.

The Hilltopper offense took over on its own 20-yard line with a chance to tie at the 9:28 mark.

Jackson opened the drive with a 12-yard reception, and then Storey picked up a big first down with his legs with a 19-yard run on a subsequent third down. Jackson followed it up with a 29-yard catch to the Marshall 22-yard line, good for his 15th catch of the game.

Sloan appeared to get WKU to the Marshall 1 after a 21-yard catch and run, but the ball was moved back to the 20 following review because Sloan inadvertently stepped out of bounds.

Walker eventually punched the ball in from 16 yards out, scoring his second rushing touchdown on a third-and-4 play. The game was then tied 23-23 with 6:19 left to play.

Knox converted a big third down for Marshall with an 11-yard run. The WKU defense got to Green on third down, forcing Marshall to punt once again.

The Hilltoppers took over at their own 35-yard line after the punt, but they quickly went three-and-out. Marshall took over at its own 13-yard line after the WKU punt, and the Thundering Herd began driving with only 1:21 left to play in the fourth quarter.

Thompson dropped a would-be winning touchdown during the Marshall drive, but it didn’t matter after Rohrwasser knocked in a new career-long field goal to secure a narrow win for Marshall.

Following the loss, WKU will return to Bowling Green and continue C-USA play against Florida Atlantic (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) next weekend.

The Hilltoppers will host head coach Lane Kiffin and the FAU Owls for an C-USA East Division matchup in Houchens-Smith Stadium next Saturday.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. on Nov. 2. The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.