— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University regained possession of The Bell on Saturday night.
Isaiah Green found Xavier Gaines for a 43-yard TD with 7:45 left and then used his own legs to put the Thundering Herd on the doorstep again, but the Thundering Herd elected to run out the clock for a wild 33-31 victory in front of 27,323 fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
As soon as the game ended, The Bell was rolled out and Herd players began to ring it. Ohio’s had the bell since 2015 when it won the game. The former Mid-American Conference rivals will renew their Bell rivalry next season in Athens.
“It feels great. All I want to do is get the W,” Gaines said. “When I get called, I do the job. It’s a blessing now. I worked hard for this.”
Marshall (2-1) is off next Saturday, then returns to the Joan on September 28 to take on Cincinnati. Ohio (1-2) is home next Saturday against Louisiana.
On Marshall’s only TD of the second half, Gaines was alone on the left as the Ohio defender slipped to the turf. Justin Rohrwasser missed the extra point and the lead was 33-31. Earlier in the drive, backup back Sheldon Evans gained 18 yards on a hook-and-ladder play for a first down at the 48. Marshall ran out the final 5-plus minutes.
“The offensive line took over,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “Knox and Evans, the competitive excellence. And Gaines, he’ll be a handful for teams. You don’t know where he lines up.”
Ohio, which trailed 27-17 at the intermission, got two scores to take the lead.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke keeps the ball on a speed option left, got a block and raced 72 yards down the left sideline for a score with 11:14 left to play. It was Ohio’s first lead of the night and the Bobcats covered 91 yards on the drive.
Rourke started the second half with a 7-play, 74-yard drive with a TD pass. He also had a big run on the march as Ohio got within 27-24 with 8:03 to play in the third.
“I’m glad he’s gone,” Holliday said of Rourke, a senior. “What a competitor.”
On the first possession, the Herd completed three passes and Gaines, who is a tight end but lined up at quarterback and the wildcat, kept the ball on a ride and read and rambled 26 yards for a score. A week ago, in a 14-7 loss at Boise State, Marshall had zero points and first downs in the second half.
On Ohio’s first possession, the Herd limited the visitors to a 44-yard field goal after the Bobcats had first down at the home team’s 33.
Marshall took a 10-3 lead on Rohrwasser’s 38-yard field goal. Rourke found Shane Hooks for a 20-yard TD early in the second period to tie the game at 10.
Marshall went ahead on Brenden Knox 2-yard TD run with 9:18 to play in the second period. Knox had a run down to the Ohio 28 earlier in the drive. He was injured late in the first half and did not see action in the second.
Ohio tied the game at 17 on an 18-yard TD pass from Rourke to De’Montre Tuggle with 6:09 left in the half.
Marshall got the final 10 points of the half for a 27-17 lead at the break. Green found a wide open Devin Miller down the middle to go ahead 24-17 with 3:12 remaining. Then Rohrwasser connected on a 37-yard field goal with 54 seconds to go. Ohio’s Louie Zervos missed a 43-yard field goal try on the next-to-last play of the half. O’Rourke hit Buckner for 32 yards down to the 27, then Zervos missed.
“It was designed for me,” Miller said, noting the Herd got in an unusual formation. “Hopefully I’d get lost and I did.”
Marshall had 74 snaps for 504 total yards. The Herd had 305 on the ground with Knox leading the charge with 133. Green had 206 passing and 50 rushing on six attempts.
“We’ve got potential for big plays,” Green said. “We have to make them when we have the chance.”
Ohio had 438 total yards on 57 plays with 223 rushing. Rourke had 215 passing and three scores and rushed for 118 on just nine attempts.
“We kept fighting, we kept our poise,” Holliday said. “That drive at the end … that’s fun.”