BOCA RATON, Fla. — Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said earlier in the week that, to get a road win, his team had to pack its toughness in its bags as it made a trek to Boca Raton to take on FAU.
For the Thundering Herd (4-3), the leader of that toughness brigade is sophomore running back Brenden Knox.
Knox finished with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries Friday night, including the game-winning 17-yard score with 36 seconds left, in Marshall’s 36-31 win over FAU.
On the final drive, Knox produced runs of 30, 10 and the final 17 yards to push Marshall to the late win. While Knox’s production was pivotal, Holliday and teammates raved about his attitude, effort and leadership, which are reasons the veteran coach has made the sophomore a captain.
After the game, he was just as focused on a crucial third-down catch by freshman Corey Gammage as what he was his own production.
Such was also shown when Knox took to social media following his 220-yard performance, which was the top effort from a Conference USA running back this season.
“Above all else the work behind the scenes never goes unnoticed. Short term memory, one week at a time my boys,” Knox said in a tweet before tagging every offensive lineman and tight end in the post.
It is that selflessness that had endeared Knox to all his teammates.
“He’s a great guy and he’s going to be the most consistent player on the field and off the field,” Marshall center Levi Brown said.
In terms of toughness, it is as much mental as physical with Knox.
With Marshall trailing 17-10 late in the first half, things didn’t look good for Marshall’s offense.
The Herd was backed up at its own 7-yard line following an FAU field goal set up by a Marshall turnover and the Owls got the ball after halftime.
Sensing the moment, Knox went to work, turning his game up another level.
The first run of the drive was a 43-yarder that got the Herd out of the shadow of its own goal-line and to midfield.
He later added another run of 31 yards in which he pinballed FAU defenders before fighting into the end zone three plays later to knot the game at halftime. On the drive, Knox had 85 of the Herd’s 93 yards.
Brown added that Knox’s second effort on runs is what energizes the entire team.
“Seeing Brenden Knox run through a second-level defender and get to the third level and break is unreal,” Brown said. “And to be able to carry the ball 23 times and have not one negative rushing yard — everything he had was positive — for 220?”
Brown paused for a second.
“You know you’re going to get your all no matter what from a guy like Brenden Knox,” Brown said. “He’s never going to go down easy, and that’s consistent. That’s not just this game. It’s been a year now at this point.”
Whether physically or mentally, Knox carried Marshall on his back during the Herd’s big Conference USA East Division win on Friday.
Marshall wide receiver Corey Gammage only had one catch in the game, but it came at possibly the contest’s biggest juncture.
Gammage, a freshman from Delray Beach, Florida, found an open spot as quarterback Isaiah Green scrambled on a critical third-and-9.
Gammage caught the pass, broke a tackle and moved ahead for 17 yards to give the Herd a needed first down prior to Knox taking over.
Marshall defensive back Steven Gilmore had plenty of reasons to smile following Friday night’s win.
Gilmore intercepted FAU quarterback Chris Robison with 23 seconds left to secure the win. Not only was the play big in the game, it was huge for the Herd defensive backs.
It was the team’s first interception in five games — since Omari Cobb at Boise State. It was also the first for a defensive back since Jaylon McClain-Sapp against VMI in the season-opener.
OBIALO OUT FOR YEAR
Marshall wide receiver Obi Obialo took to social media to announce on Thursday that he will not play in 2019.
“For all of the people who keep asking me. … I will not be playing this season,” Obialo tweeted on Thursday afternoon. “Everything happens for a reason, & I’ll be back & better than ever!”
Obialo is a senior, but has not used his redshirt season, making him eligible for the 2020 season.
Marshall’s receiving corps was dealt another blow on Friday when it was learned that freshman wide receiver Broc Thompson did not travel for the Florida Atlantic matchup.
Thompson, who led Marshall with six catches for 91 yards in the win over Old Dominion, had emerged as a target for Green.
Friday marked a special occasion for Marshall play-by-play announcer Steve Cotton.
Cotton, who is a 13-time winner of the NSMA’s West Virginia Sportscaster of the Year award, celebrated his 300th broadcast with the Thundering Herd on Friday night at FAU Stadium.
It is a streak that started with the first game of the 1996 season.