Nov. 18, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Justin Haig did it, and then proved he could do it again.
If you thought the main thing Marshall's redshirt sophomore place-kicker needed Saturday afternoon on a 45-yard field goal try was a strong leg, you're wrong.
"You've just got to concentrate, got to focus," Haig said after his right foot kept the Thundering Herd on the road to bowl eligibility by only a foot or two. "That's the main thing."
It had been more than 14 years since Marshall needed a last-seconds field goal to win a football game. Haig's kick, with seven seconds left, lifted the Herd to a 44-41 Conference USA home victory over Houston, sending Marshall (5-6, 4-3) to East Carolina (7-4, 6-1) for a Thanksgiving Friday regular-season finale, where the Herd needs a win to play in the postseason.
The last time the Herd got a waning seconds field goal to win, it was Sept. 19, 1998, at South Carolina, when Billy Malashevich's 37-yarder at 0:00 provided a 24-21 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The game included the Herd total offense high (665 yards) in a decade and a school record-tying 37 first downs. But as "clutch" goes, however, on Senior Day and in league play and with a potential bowl berth riding on that end-over-end kick, this one was bigger.
"He's the kind of kid you'd want to crawl in a foxhole with," Herd Coach Doc Holliday said of his 5-foot-7 kicker. "He's mentally tough, and I like that that kid's all about."
It was Haig's longest collegiate field goal - he booted a 51-yarder at American Heritage High in Delray Beach, Fla. - and Holliday called the distance "borderline" for a guy who is 4-for-4 beyond 40 yards this season.
Haig didn't disagree, for one reason.
"I've been battling back injuries for the last week and a half, so that had something to do with my range," Haig said. "As of right now, that was about my range, but if I were healthy, I'd have a few more yards.
"I've been having back spasms, a lot of tightness. Had it not been for the training staff, I wouldn't have been able to play this week, so I thank them."
Many in the Marshall family also found a significance in Haig's winning kick while wearing jersey No. 23. 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 - the first soccer-style kicker in Herd history -- wore the same number.
Haig said he spoke this week with the late kicker's brothers on their trek to Huntington to honor and remember Marcelo.
"I got a chance to talk to them earlier this week," Haig said. "It was a great experience to meet them and realize someone who wore that jersey before you meant something special. I couldn't have picked a better week to play as well as I did and do this.
"I didn't know (the late Lajterman) was 23. It was my number in high school. That's why I asked for it here."
Holliday repeatedly tells his players that when their number is called "go make a play." Haig did on his fourth down kick - then had to do it a second time when Houston Coach Tony Levine's "icing" timeout erased Haig's first try, which also shimmied over the crossbar.
Haig said he never thought about the possibility of a Cougars' timeout. He was too busy with his preparations
"I mean, the first thing I do when I kick is follow the rules of what I do," Haig said. "I always have confidence I'm going to make it. Every time I step onto the field, kicking a field goal in practice or in a game, it's the same thing.
"Every time I take the field, I expect to make every kick. That's my mindset. If I don't make it, I feel like I should have."
Haig said the game-winner was the biggest kick of his life, superseding a game-decider he booted in a high school state semifinal game to send his team into a Florida 1A state championship game, which it won.
The first kick erased by the Houston timeout went through the uprights, but it wasn't good in Haig's mind.
"I didn't kick it as well as I wanted to, so I took some tips from what I did wrong and tried to correct it," the Herd kicker said. "I wouldn't say I didn't anything wrong, I just thought I could kick the ball better. Whether it goes through or not, a kicker always wants the satisfaction he kicked the ball well.
"Every kick, you try to make it the same. It's all technique, and if they're not the same, you do little adjustments. I've been doing this for a while now, and I know if one's not quite right."
Haig said the emotion overcame him after his second kick cleared the bar.
"Yeah, I was pretty excited," he said. "One thing I did think about was the seniors, and I wanted to send them out the right way, so I had the opportunity to help do that."
He thanked his offensive line for blocking. "They've done a really good job this year," said Haig, who is 12-for-15 this season and also offered personal applause to freshmen snapper Matt Cincotta and holder Blake Frohnapfel.
Still, when he went onto the field, the Herd's bowl hopes were draped over his shoulders, and he knew it.
"I don't pay attention to anything except I look at the holder's fingers," Haig said. "When he lifts his fingers up, I go and kick."
Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato later said on Haig's kick: "There was no pressure ... I knew he was going to make it."
Yeah, and the kick sent spasms up a lot of Herd spines, didn't it?