HUNTINGTON — For the majority of the day, it seemed like Marshall didn’t have a prayer against Old Dominion.
In the end, however, Marshall’s answered prayer came late, but left the home crowd of 24,172 fans happy as the Thundering Herd celebrated a 20-13 overtime victory over the Monarchs for Homecoming 2021.
It wasn’t pretty, but for Marshall coach Charles Huff, nothing was prettier than ending a three-game losing streak.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this football team and the way they fought,” Huff said. “It was not clean. It was not perfect, but I think...we played team football today.”
After seeing a comeback attempt fall short last week, Marshall (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) was on the winning end of a rally on Saturday with several key plays late that solidified the gritty win.
Marshall quarterback Grant Wells struggled with moving the ball down-field throughout the day, but found Shadeed Ahmed for a 22-yard touchdown off a rollout on the second play of the overtime session, which proved to be the game-winner.
The Herd defense made that lead stand up with a fourth-down stop as Marshall safety Brandon Drayton got pressure on Old Dominion quarterback D.J. Mack, which forced an early throw to star tight end Zack Kuntz.
Marshall safety Nazeeh Johnson had the coverage on Kuntz and watched the ball fall aimlessly to the turf without having to jump with the 6-foot-8 target.
“We went Zero blitz,” Huff said. “I said, ‘Lance (Guidry, defensive coordinator), scared money don’t make money, man. Let’s go win the game.’”
The game was close to not seeing the overtime session after a 58-yard field goal attempt by Old Dominion’s Nick Rice fell just short on the final play of regulation.
The play was set up by a targeting call on Marshall’s Owen Porter that advanced the ball to midfield shortly after the Herd had tied the contest at 13.
Marshall’s offense was kept out of the end zone for the first 59 minutes of Saturday’s contest, but Wells found Willie Johnson for a 52-yard score that tied the game at 13 with just 33 seconds left.
Even Wells smirked when speaking about whether the pass was intended for Johnson or tight end Xavier Gaines, who ran into the same area on the pass play.
“I knew they were putting one-on-one on Willie and X (Gaines) to that side of the field and I knew it was time for a shot,” Wells said. “We needed some energy and it was getting late in the game. I stepped up in the pocket and saw they were still one-on-one deep down the field. I threw it in the middle and hoped one of them caught it.”
Wells finished the game 30 of 46 for 299 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Prior to the Herd’s late surge, Marshall could not quit shooting itself in the foot with mistakes and penalties that loomed large in taking points and opportunities off the board.
Marshall finished with 12 penalties for 105 yards while also falling victim to the two Wells’ interceptions — both of which came in the third quarter with the Herd looking to rally from a 10-6 halftime deficit.
On one, Wells was hit as he threw a deep ball, which sent it fluttering into the air where ODU’s Roger Cray picked it off. The other came as wide receiver Corey Gammage fell on a route inside the ODU red zone, taking potential points off the board.
Marshall took a 3-0 lead early on a 42-yard field goal by Shane Ciucci that followed an interception by Herd safety Cory McCoy.
However, Old Dominion countered near the end of the first period when Ali Jennings hauled in a 33-yard touchdown reception from Mack to make it 7-3.
The lead grew to 10-3 as Rice hit a 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Ciucci countered with a 22-yarder to make it 10-6 just before halftime.
Marshall’s defense got gashed for a few big runs by Old Dominion’s Blake Watson, who rushed for 168 yards on 26 carries, but the unit was able to force Mack into a pair of interceptions as well while limiting the Monarchs as a whole.
Charlie Gray finished with 11 tackles for the Herd while the return of Drayton loomed large from a communication aspect, according to Huff and Johnson.
“Brandon Drayton being back today was big,” Huff said. “I think that helped from a communication standpoint, from a trust standpoint.”
The win is the first in Conference USA for Huff, and it comes against his good friend in Old Dominion coach Ricky Rahne, whom he coached with at Penn State from 2014-17.
Huff and the Herd look to keep the momentum going on the road this week as they travel to Denton, Texas, to take on North Texas at 7 p.m. on Friday at Apogee Stadium.