BOCA RATON, Fla. - With one perfect snap, hold and swift boot, Marshall's Justin Haig cast away the demons of Virginia Tech.
Haig, whose blocked field goal deprived the Thundering Herd of an upset in Blacksburg, split the uprights from 41 yards on the final play Saturday, giving Marshall a 24-23 victory over Florida Atlantic.
The 5-foot-8 junior, who attended high school at nearby American Heritage School, split the uprights for his second game-winning field goal of his career. He also hit a 44-yarder last November against Houston.
The kick finished Marshall's comeback from a 23-14 deficit in the last 10 minutes, a comeback loaded with perilous moments. Haig said he put the Virginia Tech kick out of his mind, but his coach considered it the feel-good moment of the game.
"I was really proud of Haig, with what happened to him down at Virginia Tech," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "For him to step up and go make that field goal, that was huge."
"It doesn't really affect me, the Virginia Tech game," Haig said. "It's a long time ago. I take every kick with the same approach, try to make it."
Struggling offensively and tiring defensively from a 35-25 deficit in time of possession, the Herd (3-3, 2-0) essentially stole this Conference USA bout from the Owls (2-5, 1-4) on special teams.
Devon "Moo Moo" Smith returned a punt 77 yards for the Herd's only first-half score, and FAU kicker Mitch Anderson left four points on the field - a missed 40-yard field goal in the first quarter and the big miss, a third-quarter extra point that turned out to be the final margin.
But it was Rakeem Cato and some big-play receivers who brought the game to Haig's foot. While FAU built its nine-point lead, Cato was having perhaps his worst day since his last visit to the Sunshine State, that 2011 game at Central Florida.
How bad was he? He was 6 of 14 for 57 yards in a forgettable first half, and was 11 of 23 for 110 yards when FAU finished its scoring on a Jaquez Johnson 1-yard keeper with 10:01 left. For the record, Cato finished 18 of 34 for 216 yards and one enormous touchdown.
That came at just under the 7-minute mark, when the Herd faced a fourth-and-5 at the FAU 41 and probably was done if it couldn't convert. Then Cato found tight end Gator Hoskins downfield, who caught it amazingly open and turned it into a touchdown.
Suddenly, it was 23-21.
"I don't think anybody ran with me across the middle," Hoskins said. "I don't know what they were trying to do, but hey, I'm open and [Cato] finds me."
But FAU tried hard to put the game away. The Owls' three touchdown drives in the second half had covered 75, 74 and 64 yards, and Johnson was busy piling up his 265 total yards - 187 by air and 78 on the ground.