Bobcats pounce on Marshall miscues in 34-31 win

The Ohio Bobcats (2-1) painted a perfect picture of what it takes to win and play as a team against the Marshall Thundering Herd (2-1) on Saturday night at Peden Stadium. This painting’s ugliest detail, however, epitomized why the ‘Cats came away with a 34-31 victory and kept hold of the cherished bell in the 57th rivalry meeting between the two teams.

Ohio safety Toran Davis celebrates after recovering Marshall's bobbled kickoff in the endzone (Carl Fonticella)

Ohio safety Toran Davis celebrates after recovering Marshall’s bobbled kickoff in the endzone (Carl Fonticella)

Following the kickoff after a Bobcat field goal with five minutes to go in the first half, Marshall return man Steward Butler bizarrely bobbled the football just inside the five-yard line, creating a mad scramble for possession at the back of the end zone. With a sense of urgency in his stride, defensive back Toran Davis barely rescued the ball from rolling into the sideline, which marked the difference between six points and a safety. Confused cheers were shortly followed by a loud roar from celebratory Bobcat fans.

Making good on Marshall’s mistakes was the driving force behind Ohio’s victory, as the Green and White created 17 points out of four turnovers.

“We knew that they were going to get their passing yards and they made big plays, but I thought our defense really hung together and came up with plays when they needed to,” head coach Frank Solich said.

The ‘Cats defense came out to a roaring crowd of 24,836 – the third largest in Peden history – and welcomed their visiting rivals with brute force. A conditioned offensive line and mobile quarterback would be staring down the Ohio D for the next 25 minutes. If the Bobcats wanted to prevent their counterparts from burning their tails with streaks to wide receiver Tommy Shuler, they needed to land the first punch.

Safety Xavier Hughes stepped in the ring first, delivering an uppercut to running back Essray Taliaferro on Marshall’s sixth play of the game that put the ball on the turf and into Ohio’s hands.

“We felt (winning the turnover battle) was part of what we needed to do to win,” Solich said.

Quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for 266 yards in his third straight win over Marshall

Quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for 266 yards in his third straight win over Marshall (Carl Fonticella).

The defense did their job by giving the Bobcats possession at Marshall’s 47-yard line, but quarterback Tyler Tettleton still had to make use of the gift. On Ohio’s first drive, tight end Troy Hill’s sure hands turned Marshall’s blunder into seven points. He hauled in three catches for 40 yards, including the four-yard touchdown, to jump-start the ‘Cats’ offense.

On the Thundering Herd’s third drive, the elusive quarterback, Rakeem Cato, swiftly moved his team 72 yards in nine plays. After multiple opportunities, running back Kevin Grooms was able to break through at the one-yard line to tie the game at seven apiece with just fewer than five minutes remaining in the first frame.

Defense and special teams allowed Ohio to stay in front of the Herd. A 48-yard punt return by cornerback Travis Carrie set up a 32-yard field goal by kicker Matt Green, and allowed Ohio to regain the lead. The Bobcats’ hustle – and a little bit of luck – had earned the Green and White 10 unanswered points.

After Davis jumped on top of the Butler miscue in the back of the end zone, Ohio, in the blink of an eye, built up a double-digit lead.

“We did everything we could to give the offense chances to score,” cornerback Devin Bass said. “I just felt like everybody was playing together tonight.”

Marshall’s consistent air raid, a big reason why the team averages over 90 plays on offense, cut into the lead just before half. With his team backed up against their own goal line, Cato approached the drive with the poise of a quarterback starting with the ball on the opposite side of the field. Covering 93 yards in just over a minute, Cato went 5-of-8 for 90 yards on the drive, and set up a 22-yard Justin Haig field goal to put his team within one score to start the second half.

24,836 fans packed Peden Stadium for the "Battle of the Bell." It was the third-largest crowd in stadium history (Lauren Prescott).

24,836 fans packed Peden Stadium for the “Battle of the Bell.” It was the third-largest crowd in stadium history (Lauren Prescott).

Even though the ‘Cats were being out-gained by 150 yards at halftime, it was Marshall’s miscues that were the difference-maker. The defense was stepping up at the right times, and the offense began to follow suit in the second half. After taking a sack on second down on the opening drive of the second half, Tettleton connected with wide receiver Chase Cochran on a 27-yard dart on third-and-eight to extend the series.

Ohio finished the night converting 58 percent of their third downs, a big reason why the Bobcats were able to capture their third straight Battle for the Bell victory.

“It just came down to feeling more comfortable about what (Marshall was) doing,” Tettleton said.

Three plays later, running back Beau Blankenship barreled into the end zone from three yards out to give Ohio a 24-10 advantage. Marshall cut the lead down to seven right away on their following possession, chipping away at the Bobcat defense on a 15-play drive that ended with a three-yard Taliaferro touchdown run.

A response to begin the fourth quarter was pertinent. By upstaging Marshall with an 18-play drive — the longest of the game — the Green and White rose to the occasion. Blankenship was once again able to deliver with a two-yard score.

Ohio will keep the Victory Bell for the third straight season (Carl Fonticella).

Ohio will keep the Victory Bell for the third straight season (Carl Fonticella).

After a breakdown in coverage left tight end Gator Hoskins wide open for a 38-yard touchdown, Ohio needed one last momentum killer to send Marshall home with a loss. Bass’ night – an 11-tackle performance – ended on a high note with an interception of a Cato misread at the Herd 33-yard line. A successful 29–yard field goal put the ‘Cats up by double digits with under three minutes to go, ending Marshall’s attempt at a comeback.

“Any time you have a rivalry game, it gives that extra intensity to the whole team,” Bass said. “I just felt like everybody was playing together tonight and it was just a great game by everybody.”

Ohio will continue their four-game home stand with a matchup with the Austin Peay Governors (0-3). Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday at Peden Stadium.

Ohio takes the field for "The Battle of the Bell." (Carl Fonticella)

Ohio takes the field for “The Battle of the Bell.” (Carl Fonticella)

GAME NOTES:

  • After completing just 6-of-15 attempts in the first half for 75 yards and one touchdown, Tettleton went on a second-half tear, missing on just four of 23 passes, compiling 193 yards through the air and converting four of his six third-down passes for first downs
  • Hughes has caused one turnover in the first three games of the season and currently has two interceptions and one forced fumble
  • After being up 15 plays on the Bobcats to start the second half, Ohio ran 42 plays to Marshall’s 31 in the final two quarters of play
  • Ohio wide receiver Matt Waters caught a career high six catches for 83 yards and Donte Foster hauled in eight for 80 yards
  • Backup quarterback Derrius Vick received a drive’s worth of playing time, getting Ohio’s running game started with the contest’s longest run of 20 yards
  • Ohio played a very clean game, not turning over the ball over once, while Marshall turned over the ball four times, including three fumbles, and now has 13 total turnovers against the Bobcats over the past three seasons
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