Offense Scored Twice in Its Final Three Plays

HERD ZONE: McGill - Herd Rallies to Beat ODU in OT

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone
HERD ZONE:  McGill - Herd Rallies to Beat ODU in OT

By Chuck McGill

Huntington – As the final pass of the game fell harmlessly to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium turf Saturday evening, first-year Marshall head coach Charles Huff calmly removed his headset and draped an arm around defensive coordinator Lance Guidry.

There was reason to celebrate the Thundering Herd's 20-13, come-from-behind overtime win against Old Dominion here on Homecoming, but Huff first breathed a sigh of relief. In earning his first Conference USA win, Huff watched as the Herd twice scored touchdowns on its final three offensive plays and erased a late fourth quarter deficit to even its overall (3-3) and league (1-1) record at the halfway point of the regular season.

"You got to see today that this team will fight," Huff said afterward.

Marshall absorbed plenty of punches for nearly all 60 minutes of regulation. The Herd trailed the Monarchs, 13-6, when it started a drive at its own 25 with 2:37 left of the fourth quarter. On that drive, quarterback Grant Wells completed 5 of 7 passes for 97 yards – Marshall lost yardage on an offensive pass interference and a sack – and a downfield heave landed safely into the arms of receiver Willie Johnson, who spun into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown with 33 seconds remaining.

The extra point tied the game at 13-13 and set the stage for overtime.

Marshall received the ball first to open the free football period, and on the second play Wells found receiver Shadeed Ahmed for a 22-yard touchdown that proved to be the game winner.

ODU (1-5, 0-2) rushed the ball on the first six plays of its overtime possession, and then quarterback D.J. Mack Jr. misfired on a fade route to the back-right corner of the end zone to seal the win for the Herd.

"I want to tell Herd Nation that you guys helped us finish that game today," Huff said. "You stayed in the stands. We were sputtering and you picked us up. The student section was phenomenal. This is what Marshall is all about."

Marshall, with the No. 5 offense among FBS teams and No. 2 scoring offense in C-USA, could not find the end zone on any of its first 10 possessions. The Herd managed two first-half field goals, but trailed at intermission, 10-6.

The Thundering Herd opened the scoring when kicker Shane Ciucci kicked the first of two first half field goals. Ciucci connected from 42 yards out with 3:59 left of the opening quarter and then again from 22 yards out with 25 seconds left before halftime. In between, the Monarchs controlled the scoring, taking the lead on a 33-yard pass from Mack Jr. to Ali Jennings, a play in which Jennings barely dragged a foot in the end zone to complete the snag.

ODU increased its lead to 10-6 with 6:36 left of the first half on a 47-yard field goal by Nick Rice.

Overall, both teams were plagued by penalties and other miscues on offense. There were as many total points, 16, as penalties in the first half.

Marshall's offense struggled out of the gate in the second half, too. The Herd alternated possessions with interceptions and punts the first four times it had the ball in the second half, and then an eight-play drive ended on downs with 7:42 left. It looked bleak then.

ODU added a field goal with 2:37 left after a 10-play, 32-yard drive chewed more than five minutes off the clock. That's when Wells and the offense answered with its backs against the wall.

The Monarchs actually had a chance to win the game in regulation on a 58-yard field goal, but that attempt fell a few yards short.

Wells finished 30-for-46 passing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Huff said he never wavered when Wells tossed a pair of second-half interceptions and the offense struggled.

"He's our quarterback; he's Marshall's quarterback," Huff said of Wells, the 2020 Conference USA Freshman of the Year. "We're going to ride with him.

"Do we have to get it cleaned up? Yes. I love that kid. I got his back. He's our quarterback … Great players step up in big-time moments. You can't play a perfect game but you can play the next play perfect."

Wells spread the ball to nine different receivers. Ahmed led all receivers with 77 yards and caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week while equaling his career-high of seven receptions, which he set last Saturday at Middle Tennessee. Corey Gammage added six catches for 69 yards and Johnson finished with three receptions for 63 yards.

Freshman running back Rasheen Ali had his touchdown streak snapped at five games, but added 77 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards.

The defense had a host of stars.

Linebacker Charlie Gray easily surpassed his career high in tackles with 11. Safety Nazeeh Johnson, linebacker Abraham Beauplan, linebacker Eli Neal, safety Brandon Drayton and defensive lineman Shane Simmons each had seven tackles. Defensive lineman Elijah Alston led the way with 1.5 sacks and 2.0 tackles for a loss. Beauplan and Neal also had sacks, while defensive backs Steven Gilmore and Chad McCoy each had an interception.

Overall, Marshall's defense has allowed 13 points in the last six quarters plus an overtime. Middle Tennessee's only second half points last Saturday came on a fumble return.

"Our defense is starting to play the way most people expected," Huff said. "Each week our defense is making strides. We're starting to see the type of defense we can be."

Marshall has a short turnaround before its next C-USA matchup – a road trip to North Texas next Friday.

Chuck McGill is the Assistant Athletic Director for Fan/Donor Engagement and Communications at Marshall University and a nine-time winner of the National Sports Media Association West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award. In addition to HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, McGill is the editor of Thundering Herd Illustrated, Marshall's official athletics publication. Follow him on Twitter (@chuckmcgill) and Instagram (wordontheherd).