HUNTINGTON — If you’re looking for quotes to sum up Marshall football going from Week 11 into the final week of the regular season, there’s the one from Apollo 13: “Houston, we have a problem.”
Well, Justin Haig’s foot fixed that after the Thundering Herd wasted a three-touchdown lead — twice — in Saturday’s 44-41 heart-thumper of a Conference USA victory over Houston.
Which brings up one of those famed lines from Baseball and Malaprop Hall of Fame All-Star Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.”
Which brings Coach Doc Holliday’s team (5-6, 4-3) into a short week, and still in need of a bowl-qualifying win at East Carolina on Thanksgiving Friday.
And for that one, another Yogi-ism is apropos: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Yes, it was a year ago at Edwards Stadium when ECU and the Herd faced off, the winner getting a bowl bid, the loser getting a long winter at 5-7.
Marshall won that one in overtime. The Herd’s survival of the Cougars — losing their own bowl hopes on Haig’s 45-yard field goal with seven-seconds left — was no less hand-wringing.
“We’ve got to find a way,” Holliday said, “to finish the game.”
Yes, this Senior Day was almost a postseason sayonara for the home team.
The Herd tied the school record with 37 first downs. It ran 106 plays, the second-highest total in school history, and the most since 108 in a 1987 win over Western Carolina.
Marshall’s 665 yards total offense was its high in a 128-game span, or more than a decade.
None of that was almost enough.
It took Haig’s collegiate career-long field goal — matching the longest in Holliday’s three MU seasons — to keep bowl hopes alive.
“I never have any doubt when I go onto the field to kick,” said Haig, who is 11-of-14 on field goal tries this season.
“He’s the kind of kid you’d want to crawl in a foxhole with,” Holliday said, adding that the winning FG distance was “borderline” for Haig, who has been suffering back spasms the last two weeks.
In the week when Marshall remembered the 1970 football team plane crash victims with the annual Memorial Fountain ceremony, it was brought up that the kicker who died that Nov. 14, 1970 night, Marcelo Lajterman, wore uniform No. 23.
It was an eerily happy coincidence not lost on many in the Herd football and athletic administration family.
So does — but only coincidentally — does Haig, who spoke this week with the late kicker’s brothers on their trek to Huntington to honor and remember their brother.
“I got a chance to talk to them (the Lajterman brothers) earlier this week,” said Haig, who was emotional even in the post-game interviews after booting what he called the biggest kick of his life.
It was really special.
“I didn’t know (the late Lajterman) was 23. It was my number in high school (American Heritage, Delray Beach, Fla.).
“That’s why I asked for it here.”
Honestly, the Herd may not have been in position to win had Richie Leone’s kickoff not sailed out of bounds following the Cougars’ game-tying field goal (28 yards) by Matt Hogan with 1:18 to go.
Poised as he has increasingly become, sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato took the Herd seven plays and 37 yards to the Houston 28.
The Herd used two timeouts. Houston used its second-last one to try and freeze Haig, who booted the ball through the uprights — and barely over the crossbar — on a try that didn’t count.
Then, the Marshall redshirt sophomore did it again, kicking it “much better the second time,” he said.
“I didn’t even think about them calling timeout, really. I was focused. I just focus on the holder’s (backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel) hands.”
Cato was superb again, and while he completed 32-of-50 passes, it was his 16-yard, first-down run to the Cougars’ 37 on Marshall’s last-gasp drive that was his biggest play of the day, without question.
“It was ugly,” Cato said afterward, “but we got it. We all stuck together and just found a way to win the game.
“It was important. I told the guys all week that we are playing for the ‘M’ on the side of our helmets.
“It was emotional. We were all at the ceremony this week.
“The seniors did a speech last night. It brought a lot of tears to my eyes. We just had to get this win.”
And while numerically and emotionally, Haig’s week-ending boot in the fading sunlight was a reminder of Lajterman, his winning kick was more closely related to another Herd soccer-style artist.
Haig’s kick was the first last-seconds game-winner for Marshall since Billy Malashevich’s 37-yard kick at 0:00 won at South Carolina, 24-21, in September 1998 for Coach Bobby Pruett.
Playing for the ‘M’ ... Marcelo ... Malashevich ... and, as Holliday said, “to make a winning field goal on the week of the memorial ... Haig, I like what he’s all about.”