HUNTINGTON — All week, Marshall had one goal on its board in the team room: finish.
On Saturday afternoon, the completion of that goal helped the Thundering Herd end a two-game losing streak.
A strong fourth-quarter effort led Marshall to a 31-17 win over Old Dominion in front of 18,351 fans on Military Appreciation Day at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“I’m proud of our players for the way they responded,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “At the end of the day, we took care of the ball and scored in the red zone.”
The game was in the balance as the teams went to the fourth quarter with Marshall leading 24-17. Old Dominion took possession early in the frame and drove to the Marshall 42 with a chance to tie the game up.
That’s when the complexion changed, however. Marshall linebacker Tyler Brown came free on a blitz and sacked Old Dominion’s Messiah deWeaver — the Herd’s eighth sack of the day — to help stop a drive and force a punt.
From there, Marshall’s offensive line took over, helping the Herd grind out a 10-play, 77-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock, culminating with Brenden Knox’s 6-yard TD run that pushed the lead to two scores.
“I don’t know that it was a statement drive, but I just give credit to our offensive line,” Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green said. “That’s the second time this season where our O-line has taken over the game with five or six minutes left when we needed a huge drive.”
Marshall (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) finished the game with 444 yards of total offense, including 236 on the ground — the most rushing yards Old Dominion has given up on the ground in a game in 2019. The Monarchs came in with a top-25 rush defense nationally.
Knox led the charge with 104 yards on 24 carries and the game-sealing touchdown, but was more focused on the work of the offensive line following the game.
“They made everything easy for everybody else,” Knox said.
More importantly, Marshall had no turnovers in this contest. Green was 19 of 31 passing for 175 yards with a touchdown while rushing for 59 yards as well. Freshman Broc Thompson was Green’s favorite target, hauling in six passes for 91 yards.
Prior to Knox’s touchdown run, the Herd had difficulty putting the Monarchs away — largely based on troubles with kickoff coverage.
Marshall’s kickoff coverage unit was a big hindrance for the Herd on Saturday afternoon with Old Dominion’s Blake Watson getting a pair of huge returns to help the Monarchs stay within striking distance.
After Willie Johnson scored on a 27-yard reverse to put Marshall up 24-10, Watson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to set up a 24-yard scoring run by Kesean Strong to again cut it to a one-score game.
That came after Watson’s long return set up a Nick Rice 39-yard field goal to cut it to 17-10 at the break after Marshall’s Justin Rohrwasser hit a career-long 45-yard field goal.
Instead of Marshall taking a two-score lead into the locker room and getting possession to start the second half, it was a one-score game despite Marshall statistically dominating the first half.
Marshall’s defense gave Old Dominion trouble throughout the contest, registering eight sacks. That figure included six in the first half, when the Herd limited ODU to 106 total yards.
Leading the charge was Marshall defensive end Darius Hodge, who finished with seven tackles, including 4.5 sacks, which tied a Marshall single-game record.
Linebacker Tavante Beckett — a native of Chesapeake, Virginia, which is near Old Dominion University — finished with 14 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack.
Hodge said there was no doubt coming into the week of the importance of Saturday’s matchup, including Beckett’s personal feel, which resonated to the whole defense.
“We are one team, one unit,” Hodge said. “If one has a problem, we all have a problem.”
Old Dominion started the game with quarterback Stone Smartt, but Smartt was ineffective early, going 1 of 2 through the air while being sacked four times in his first three drives.
That forced head coach Bobby Wilder to change to deWeaver, who also was under fire from the Marshall defense. DeWeaver finished 8 of 14 for 100 yards with one touchdown — a 44-yard pass to Aaron Moore — but was also sacked four times.
The Herd defense allowed just 206 yards in the win.
Marshall now shifts gears to a short week as the Herd prepares to face Florida Atlantic at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night in Boca Raton, Florida.