Marshall sent Madison a bouquet of sympathy flowers before last night's annual Rotary Bowl game matching the two Liberty District rivals. Marshall was keenly aware that a win at Madison would keep the Warhawks out of the Northern Region Division 5 playoffs, and the flowers expressed the Statesmen's sentiments for keeping them out of the postseason.
The gambit backfired. Madison rallied late for a 27-18 victory -- scoring 13 points in the final seven seconds -- and the flowers were left displayed next to the Rotary Bowl trophy behind the Madison bench.
"That definitely made us mad," Madison running back Justin Ashcraft said.
The win hardly came easy. Trailing 18-14 with third and goal from the Marshall 13 and the clock winding down, Justin Duncan hauled in Kevin Healy's high, arching pass in the end zone for the decisive score.
The victory gave the Warhawks (7-3, 6-1 Liberty) a playoff berth; Marshall (5-5, 2-5) was bidding for its first six-win season in more than 10 years.
The winning drive started on Madison's 27 with 1 minute 12 seconds to play and no timeouts. Ashcraft took a handoff from Healy and then heaved a pass deep down field to the quarterback, who caught the 40-yard pass on the fly and ran to the 7.
Three plays later, Healy found Duncan, who had run a fade route. The senior out-leaped the defender for the catch and the go-ahead points. Pat McAndrews intercepted a pass and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown on Marshall's final play from scrimmage to provide the final margin and seal a sixth consecutive win in the annual Rotary Bowl between the cross-town rivals.
"Yes, we were pretty desperate," said Ashcraft. "Healy's got the best hands on the team, so when I saw him open, I knew he'd catch it. I was just hoping the pass would get that far."
Healy (4-for-7 passing for 40 yards and two interceptions) was filling in for starter Warren Anderson, who was hobbled by a sore ankle and didn't enter the game until the fourth quarter. "All we kept saying in the huddle on that last drive was that we had to win, we had to get into the playoffs," Healy said. "Everyone just blocked as hard as they could at the line for five seconds, and tried to stay positive. Justin's the best athlete on the team, so we wanted to look for him."
Duncan's 35-yard run -- part of a 194-yard rushing effort -- gave the Warhawks a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. But Marshall rallied to score and get a two-point conversion in the quarter, and then held Madison on three consecutive plays inside the 5 as the first-half clock expired.
Marshall took an 18-14 advantage when it drove 57 yards on the opening possession of the second half. Jordan Culbreath (38 yards on eight carries) capped the march with a two-yard touchdown run -- his second of the game.
That lead held, and the Warhawks turned the ball over downs at their own 37 with 2:45 to go. But the Statesmen couldn't gain a first down and failed on a fourth-and-one quarterback sneak play at the 27 with 1:45 left.
"Yes, we needed a prayer answered to win the game," said Warhawks Coach Gordon Leib. "At the goal line, the plan was to just throw it up there and hope [Duncan] catches it. He did."
Madison had won three consecutive games in the series by shutout (104-0) and four of the past five. Marshall last won in 1999, by a 26-6 count as part of a 5-5 season, its last non-losing mark.