Chad Pennington wasn't about to let Marshall's unbeaten season and bowl hopes slip away no matter how badly it hurt his swollen right hand.
Pennington, barely able to squeeze the football after injuring his throwing hand in the second quarter, threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth-quarter score Saturday as the No. 13 Thundering Herd extended the nation's longest major-college winning streak to 13 with a 28-16 victory over Kent.
Pennington finished 19-of-25 for 209 yards as the Thundering Herd (9-0, 6-0 Mid-American Conference) stayed in contention for a major bowl berth by holding off the Golden Flashes (2-8, 2-5).
Marshall, missing three starters because of injuries or family illness, wasn't overly impressive in holding off Kent, which came into the game as a 35-point underdog. The point total was the Thundering Herd's lowest of the season as was their 328 offensive yards.
But they won, and in this crazy college football season, that's the most important thing.
"I'll tell you what, 9-0 sure looks a lot better than 8-1," said Pennington, who could barely shake hands following the game. "Today wasn't our best performance, but we'll take it. This year, it's important just to survive."
A scout from the Fiesta Bowl was on hand to evaluate Marshall, which entered the game as one of only six Division I-A schools but could be left out of the Bowl Championship Series because of its weak schedule.
"The Fiesta Bowl was standing in our locker room, but that doesn't mean anything," Pruett said. "If we can go and play for the MAC championship and in the Motor City Bowl, we'd be tickled to death."
But Evan Paoletti, a team selction chairman for the Fiesta, said Marshall is involved the Fiesta Bowl mix.
"Theyre definitely in the picture," he said. "If they've got a team that's ranked and we think their a good match then we'll take them."
Kent, which got three field goals from Dave Pavich, trailed by eight points early in the fourth quarter and drove the ball to the Marshall 2.
However, coach Dean Pees decided to kick a field goal, bringing Kent within 21-16, instead of going for a touchdown.
"The key there was to come away with points," Pees said. "There was still plenty of time left in the game. We had just had a nice drive and didn't want to come away with nothing."
But Pennington then led the Thundering Herd on a 72-yard drive, completing four passes and going the final yard himself to put Marshall ahead 28-16 with 7:17 left.
"We knew we had to score there and we knew we had to take some time off the clock," said Pennington. "We needed a good drive and we got it."
Pennington is a longshot for the Heisman Trophy just as Marshall is for the national championship.
But the presence of six NFL scouts to see the senior quarterback, and the Fiesta Bowl's interest, shows how far Marshall's program has climbed.
"It's nice that they're looking at someone in our league," Pruett said. "But we didn't play well. Too many missed tackles. Too many missed assignments. Today was a day we certainly could have gotten beat."
Kent overcame a two-touchdown deficit to pull within 14-13 in the third quarter on Pavich's 37-yarder. But Pennington led Marshall on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by a 15-yard scoring pass to Nate Poole.
Pennington completed 9 of 10 passes for 121 yards in the first quarter the only incompletion was dropped and threw TD passes on Marshall's first two drive to give the Thundering Herd a 14-0 lead.
Pennington found David Foye over the middle for 38 yards on third down to keep a 15-play drive alive, and then hooked up with Lanier Washington for an 8-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0.
It looked like Kent might be overmatched, but the Golden Flashes came back and, after converting a fake punt, pulled within 14-7 on a 19-yard pass from Jose Davis to James Gamble with 9:36 left in the half.
Davis finished 22-of-38 for 195 yards.
Kent's TD was the first allowed by Marshall in 11 quarters, and it wasn't long before some of Kent's fans began mocking the Thundering Herd with chants of "Over-rated".
The Golden Flashes were able to close to 14-10 at the half on Pavich's 40-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Marshall's first score came after Kent fumbled on its first possession as Pennington's 14-yard pass was caught by James Williams, who made a nice adjustment on a poorly thrown ball.
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