HUNTINGTON — Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has preached for the last seven weeks, ever since preseason camp started, that he loves what his 2019 football team is all about.
On Saturday, the Thundering Herd showed a glimpse of exactly what Holliday saw building up to the season.
For the second straight game, adversity struck the Herd in the second half, testing its mental makeup. Unlike last week’s loss to Boise State where Marshall faltered late, the Herd rose to the occasion, taking Ohio’s punches before ringing the Bobcats’ bell in the final 10 minutes of play, ultimately prevailing 33-31.
“They just keep fighting,” Holliday said. “This team just keeps fighting.”
Considering how the second half was going, it would’ve been easy for the Herd to hang its head, say ‘Oh no. Here we go again,’ and accept another second-half crumble. Instead, Marshall dug in its heels and found a way to get the win, keeping “The Bell” in Huntington for the next year.
Quarterback Isaiah Green led the team in maintaining its poise, shaking off last week’s frustration to deliver one of his cleaner performances in a Marshall uniform. Green’s numbers won’t overwhelm — he was 17 of 28 for 206 yards and two touchdowns while adding 50 yards rushing — but he put up a zero where it counted most: the turnover column.
Green’s decision-making and focus also were pristine Saturday night. There were several plays in which Green danced around trouble in the backfield, but stayed locked downfield to find receivers. And, in certain situations, Green threw the ball 10 yards out of bounds instead of risking a throw into coverage, showing his growing maturity.
Perhaps the best indicator of Green’s night, however, was his success in the run game. On the game’s final drive, Green had a pair of scrambles that went for first downs — runs of 20 and 12 yards — which ended any chance for Ohio to get the ball back.
Especially on the 20-yard run, Green showed a lot of moxie. Marshall faced a second-and-8 as the entire Ohio defense converged to stop running back Sheldon Evans on first down. On the next play, Green faked the hand-off, then, despite Ohio putting nine in the box, was patient enough to allow the blocking to develop and the aggressive Bobcats to overrun the play, opening a hole for him to run through.
Staying in the moment, Green carried the ball with two hands, knowing Ohio’s last-ditch effort was to try and rip the ball away. He carried defenders another 12 yards to put the Herd one step closer to the win.
Green said that following the loss to Boise State, the offense felt as if it had something to prove. That proof — especially along the offensive front — came as the Herd salted away the win by keeping possession for the final 5:42 of playing time. Marshall did not attempt a pass on that final drive.
“They came through,” Green said. “We got the ball back with 5:40 and we controlled the ball all the way down the field without throwing the ball one time, so you know that was huge for them. We have one of the best offensive lines in our conference. They showed that tonight.”
Poise was not just limited to the offensive side.
Defensively, Marshall gave up a huge play — a 72-yard touchdown run on an option keeper from Ohio’s Nathan Rourke — that gave the Bobcats their first lead at 31-27 with 11:14 left. From there, the Herd defense was lights out.
After Xavier Gaines’ 43-yard touchdown reception gave Marshall the lead again, the Herd defenders got in on Rourke and, even though they weren’t able to sack him, the pressure was enough to disrupt his throwing rhythm.
Rourke, one of the nation’s more efficient passers, was just 2 of 6 for 17 yards in the fourth quarter. Aside from the busted assignment on Rourke’s 72-yard scoring run, Marshall’s defense yielded just 33 yards on 11 other fourth-quarter plays.
“I just thought the kids kept their poise, you know, and made plays when they had to,” Holliday said.
Now Marshall gets to enjoy the win in the Battle for the Bell for a few days as it gets into its first bye week of the year. The Herd resumes practice later this week in preparation for Cincinnati, which visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Sept. 28.