The two teams who took the field at Doyt Perry Stadium could not have been in more different situations coming into the game on Saturday night.
The hosting Bowling Green Falcons (1-2) had just come off a seven-overtime heartbreaker loss to FCS Eastern Kentucky, facing existential questions about the state of the program for the week leading in.
On the contrary, the Marshall Thundering Herd (2-0) came in undefeated after unexpectedly taking down Notre Dame the previous week in dramatic fashion, finding themselves the center of college football intrigue.
It all set up for a bizzare game for the 100th Homecoming on the campus of Bowling Green State University, one which won’t be forgotten any time soon for fans of the Brown and Orange.
It was an inauspicious start for the hosting Falcons, as Marshall jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead by the 12:28 mark of the first quarter, scoring on a 51-yard Corey Gammage touchdown reception just one minute into the game and another 78-yard touchdown reception, this time courtesy of Caleb McMillan, after the Herd forced a BGSU three-and-out on defense.
Both teams ultimately settled in for a turf war, as the next eight combined possessions would go for no more than three plays apiece, with only one of those going further than 12 yards. Marshall suffered a brief scare on a fumble at the BGSU four-yard line, but the Falcons could do naught with it but kick a punt after a three-and-out.
Finally, with 12:30 remaining in the second quarter, the Falcons broke through, with Matt McDonald finding Odieu Hilaire for a 25-yard touchdown reception after an 11-play, 81-yard drive to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Marshall replied with a nice 69-yard drive of their own, taking nine plays and about three minutes off the clock before Khalan Laborn edged the Falcons defense to pick a five-yard score and put the Herd up 21-7.
From there, the Falcons went off, with Hilaire (30 yards) and Cavon Croom (27 yards) getting the score all knotted up at 21 apiece to end the first half. It was a standoff until the fourth quarter, when BGSU would post their 21st unanswered point on a one-yard rushing touchdown from tight end Harold Fannin Jr. to cap off a domineering 14-play, 80-yard drive which ate up nearly six minutes of clock.
Marshall and BGSU exchanged punts after the Fannin rushing score, setting up Marshall for a must-score drive with eight minutes remaining.
Khalan Labron would answer the bell with an eight-yard touchdown run to stop the BGSU scoring run and tie the game back up with 5:43 remaining, which ultimately proved to be the final score of regulation after three combined unsuccessful drives.
The first overtime saw Marshall take possession, with a broken pass on first down and a two-yard rush by quarterback Henry Columbi called back for holding. It proved to be a fairly pivotal penalty, as it forced a second-and-20 from the BG 35-yard line, immensely changing the game flow.
Columbi found Cammage for a 12-yard reception, but they just could not get to the line to gain on the ensuing down, as Columbi was forced to run due to incoming pressure from Walter Haire and Karl Brooks. Marshall had no choice but to go for a field goal from 38 yards out, with Rece Verhoff converting to give Marshall the 31-28 advantage.
Bowling Green took possession next, and on the first play from scrimmage, Pa’Sean Wimberly shot out of a cannon on a run to the right-hand sideline for what looked to be a walk-off touchdown. Fans had started to flood the field and players were reacting to the play in real time— but officials called for a review of the play.
It resulted in a delay of the game, and in the chaos, a skirmish broke out at midfield between the two teams as officials were occupied by the review process. It was determined that Wimberly’s knee touched the turf at the 1.5-yard line, so the teams had to collect themselves and go back out for at least another set of downs after the Marshall timeout to discuss the gameplan.
BGSU lined up nine players on the line of scrimmage, with four tight ends on the field in a singleback look. Matt McDonald took the snap, faked the handoff to Ta’ron Keith, then threw it back to Keith on the wheel route, who caught it and dived towards the pylon— much like Wimberly had done the play prior— to win the game in walk-off fashion for the Falcons.
Matt McDonald exploded once again for BGSU after a six-touchdown showing against EKU, finishing 27-of-45 for 282 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and 24 rush yards. Wide receiver CJ Lewis (13 yards) had a pass attempt, while Camden Orth took one passing attempt for McDonald late in the game as he was being evaluated for an injury, completing the play for three yards. At least nine players had one rushing carry, with Pa’Sean Wimberly leading with 34 yards.
Odieu Hilare led the way for BG, with two touchdowns and 79 yards on four receptions. Running back Ta’Ron Keith had eight receptions to lead all receivers and a touchdown with 62 accumulated yards. Cavon Croom also had a touchdown on 50 yards and four catches.
Chris Bacon led the Falcons in tackles, with seven. Karl Brooks was a highlight player, with five tackles, a tackle-for-loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Three different BG defenders notched sacks, while JB Brown forced two fumbles and Trent Simms nabbed an interception.
Sami Sir punted nine times for BG, netting 330 yards.
For the visiting Herd, Henry Columbi finished 23-of-34 for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, with 30 yards gained on nine carries prior to sack losses. Cam Fancher also spelled in at signalcaller. going 3-of-4 for 18 yards in the air and 24 yards on the ground on two attempts.
Khalen Laborn showed once again why he’s considered one of the best runners at the Group of Five level, picking up 157 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Corey Cammage led all receivers with 100 yards, and all Herd receivers with seven receptions, while Caleb McMillan (two carries, 92 yards) hauled in the other Marshall TD. No other receiver had more than 38 yards.
Charlie Gray and Abraham Beauplain tied for the team lead in tackles, which also led all tacklers on the day, with nine stops apiece. Beauplain and Andre Sam (seven tackle) each notched two pass break-ups. Owen Porter and Damion Barber Jr. each picked up a sack.
Placekicker Rece Verhoff was called upon just once, converting a 38-yard kick in overtime. John McConnell had six punts for 254 net yards, with five boots inside-the-20, a long of 51 yards and no touchbacks.
BGSU sets up for a battle with Mississippi State next Saturday afternoon with a win in their pockets, while Marshall will take on new conference mate Troy on the road Saturday night.