HUNTINGTON — Last week, Marshall’s offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half of a loss to nationally ranked Boise State, prompting Marshall head coach Doc Holliday to say his team needed to find a way to win late.
It didn’t take long for the Thundering Herd to put those newfound lessons to the test.
Marshall took possession with 5:42 left and rushed the ball eight straight times, salting away a 33-31 win over Ohio in the Battle for the Bell in front of 27,323 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“What a football game that was,” Holliday said. “I thought there was two really good teams out there tonight that competed about as hard as they could compete.”
It was another classic game in the 60th meeting between the teams.
Following the game, Marshall center Levi Brown carted the Bell — the traveling trophy between the teams — around the stadium as part of the celebration.
Brown had plenty of reason to celebrate as the Marshall offensive line fueled an offensive effort that produced 511 yards and 305 yards rushing.
Marshall got possession with 5:42 left following a defensive stop and never let the Bobcats get another crack at taking the lead, rushing eight times before a pair of kneel-downs ended the game.
“It’s such a fun game and to win it on our goal line, taking knees — ‘Victory’ is the best play in college football,” Brown said. “To be able to do that is a great feeling.”
The Thundering Herd led by 10 at the half, but Ohio used solid defensive adjustments and the play of Nathan Rourke to take its first lead at 31-27 on a 72-yard option keeper from Rourke with 11:14 left.
With the game at its most critical point, Marshall engineered a drive, using a hook-and-lateral to get across midfield before Xavier Gaines hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass after an Ohio defender fell down in coverage. However, a missed extra point left the Herd with only a two-point advantage, leaving the outcome in flux.
That’s when Marshall’s defense stepped up, getting a stop after pressuring Rourke to force the Bobcats to punt with under six minutes left.
Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green finished 17 of 28 for 206 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing six times for 50 yards, including two huge runs for first downs that ended the game. More important, the Herd did not turn the ball over.
Rourke was 15 of 25 for 215 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 118 yards and a score. He drew the praise of Holliday following the game.
“I want you to know that he’s a hell of a football player,” Holliday said. “I mean, how many times did we have him sacked? And I have good athletes up front defensively. We had that guy sacked and then he takes off and runs for about 70 on a speed option. I’m glad he’s gone.”
In the first half on Saturday, it appeared that Marshall’s offensive struggles against Boise State were in the past as the Herd racked up 336 yards en route to a 27-17 halftime advantage.
Ohio coach Frank Solich was not happy with the first-half performance of his defense.
“You’ve got to play four quarters of football, generally, to win football games,” Solich said. “We did not do that today. From the defensive side of it, I thought the first half was a very poor first half — very poor showing in a lot of ways.”
Of those 336 yards for the Herd, 205 yards came on the ground with Brenden Knox accounting for 133 of those yards. However, things changed for the Herd offense immensely when Knox exited the game.
Marshall opened the playbook and showed a few wrinkles — a pair of which went for scores.
With the game tied at 17 late in the second quarter, the Herd lined up in a tight formation under center before going to a five-wide set that included tackle Will Ulmer splitting out in the slot. Ulmer’s deception worked as Devin Miller took off straight down the middle of the field and caught an uncontested 22-yard touchdown pass from Green.
After a defensive stop, Knox had a pair of carries for 35 yards that helped set up Justin Rohrwasser’s 37-yard field goal to set the halftime score.
Ohio’s Louie Zervos missed a 43-yard attempt before the end of the half that could’ve gotten the Bobcats within one score.
The creativity of Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey showed from the onset as the Herd took the opening drive into the end zone.
After Isaiah Green kept a Marshall drive alive with a 29-yard pass to Tavin Richardson on third down, Gaines lined up in the Wildcat, faked a handoff to Knox and ran around the left side for a 26-yard touchdown to open the scoring. It was one of two carries that Gaines — listed as a tight end — had for 50 yards in the first half.
Knox rushed for 133 of his yards in the first half and added a 2-yard touchdown to the mix as well. Marshall’s offensive line was able to keep things moving forward as the Herd averaged 7.8 yards per play early on. Knox did not play in the second half due to an undisclosed injury.
Zervos’ 44-yard field goal got the Bobcats on the board while quarterback Nathan Rourke connected on scoring passes of 20 yards to Shane Hooks and 18 yards to De’Montre Tuggle to account for Ohio’s first-half scoring.
MARSHALL 33, OHIO 31
Ohio 3 14 7 7—31
Marshall 10 17 0 6—33
MSH: Gaines 26 run (Rohrwasser kick), 12:45
OHI: FG Zervos 44, 7:51
MSH: FG Rohrwasser 38, 3:55
OHI: Hooks 20 pass from N.Rourke (Zervos kick), 14:09
MSH: Knox 2 run (Rohrwasser kick), 9:18
OHI: Tuggle 18 pass from N.Rourke (Zervos kick), 6:09
MSH: D.Miller 22 pass from Green (Rohrwasser kick), 3:12
MSH: FG Rohrwasser 37, :54
OHI: R.Luehrman 7 pass from N.Rourke (Zervos kick), 8:03
OHI: N.Rourke 72 run (Zervos kick), 11:14
MSH: Gaines 43 pass from Green (kick failed), 7:45
OU / MU
First downs 18 / 25
Rushes-yards 31-223 / 46-305
Passing 215 / 206
Comp-Att-Int 15-26-0 / 17-28-0
Return Yards 168 / 23
Punts-Avg. 5-37.8 / 5-35.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 / 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-15 / 2-20
Time of Possession 26:11 / 33:49
RUSHING: Ohio, N.Rourke 9-118, Allison 12-60, Tuggle 10-45. Marshall, Knox 16-133, S.Evans 17-77, Gaines 3-52, Green 6-50, W.Johnson 1-(minus 1), (Team) 3-(minus 6).
PASSING: Ohio, N.Rourke 15-25-0-215, (Team) 0-1-0-0. Marshall, Green 17-28-0-206.
RECEIVING: Ohio, Cox 4-61, R.Luehrman 4-60, Allison 3-14, Tuggle 2-28, Buckner 1-32, Hooks 1-20. Marshall, Levias 5-29, Gaines 3-53, Gammage 3-40, D.Miller 2-24, Henry 2-0, T.Richardson 1-29, Keaton 1-16.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Ohio, Zervos 43.