The Bell tolls again for Bobcats
HUNTINGTON - Opportunistic, turnover-forcing defenses have been a staple of coach Frank Solich's tenure at Ohio, and the Bobcats showed that again Saturday night, stealing a 27-24 victory over Marshall.
Nathan Carpenter picked up a stripped ball and returned it 48 yards to set up Matt Weller's go-ahead field goal with 1:37 left. Then linebacker Jelani Woseley reached high to pull down a Rakeem Cato pass to seal the issue.
It was the second year in a row the Bobcats have defeated the Herd in the Battle for the Bell, and the result puts Marshall in a tough position early in the season - 1-2 and facing road games against Rice and Purdue.
With an Edwards Stadium crowd of 33,436 riled up much of the night, Marshall and Cato had Ohio up against the turnbuckle before both turnovers.
Cato knifed through the Bobcats defense, going 44-of-65 passing for 432 yards and three touchdowns. The 44 completions were a school record, and it was accomplished to compensate for an ineffective running game.
With the game tied at 24, Marshall tilted field position in its favor, taking over at the Ohio 48 with 5:37 left. After Remi Watson ran 10 yards for one first down, the Herd had a third-and-2 at the 30, and Cato picked that up with a pass to Antavious Wilson.
But before Wilson went down, Larenzo Fisher knocked the ball loose and Carpenter picked it out of the air and dashed the other direction. Forty-eight yards later, the Bobcats were in business at the Marshall 31 with 4:46 left.
With Beau Blankenship picking up one first down on three successive runs, quarterback Tyler Tettleton was able to milk the clock under the 2-minute mark. From 38 yards, the outcome of the field goal was almost assumed - Weller is Ohio's all-time leading field-goal kicker, and hit the 59th of his career to give the Bobcats the lead.
Andre Snipes-Booker took a touchback to conserve time, and it took Cato three passes to move from the MU 25 to the Ohio 44. He hit Demetrius Evans for 8 yards on a third-and-1, giving the Herd four fresh downs from the Ohio 27.
Gator Hoskins bobbled the first-down pass. On second down, Cato scrambled right and directed tight end C.J. Crawford to an open spot, and delivered. The ball never made it to Crawford, as Woseley jumped up and snagged it.
With 20 seconds left, the Bobcats were able to take three knees and call it a night.
"I was trying to make sure the backside safety was nowhere near, so he couldn't pick the ball off," Cato said. "And I threw it, I felt I put enough arm strength into it. He made a spectacular play. If I hit C.J. Crawford, he walks into the end zone."
"[Woseley] had taken his drop," Solich said. "Cato had done a great job all game long of just piercing throws; he put it where it had to be put. Sometimes we were in pretty good position. Now sometimes, we weren't in position and there were too wide open.
"But he made some really excellent throws, but this time Jelani positioned himself well. I don't know if Cato saw him or not, I don't know if [Woseley] had to move a great deal to get the ball, it seems like he just had to jump, almost, to get it. I think maybe Cato might have been trying to get it over him tried to get it over him, I'm not sure. But in any case, it was certainly huge for us."
That left Marshall coach Doc Holliday to become the kinder father figure and console his quarterback.
"I'm proud of him," Holliday said. "And he hurts. He's a hurting guy right now. He played his tail off; he's a young guy and he'll learn from it, and our entire team will learn from it, and we'll get better."
Tettleton threw for three touchdowns as he rallied Ohio from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit. He went 6 yards to Troy Hill early in the second quarter, 4 to Tyler Futrell with 49 seconds left in the half and 27 to Ryan Clark for the tying shot on fourth-and-5 with 10:43 left in the game.
The last throw came off an on-the-fly adjustment, as Clark outran cornerback Monterius Lovett down the right sideline.
"We really had a different play called, one to pick up the first-down yardage," Solich said. "He 'tagged' the wideout to go deep - that's how much confidence he has in himself and his throwing ability, and how much confidence he has in his teammates."
The Herd came out smoking, with Cato leading 75- and 85-yard touchdown drives. Jazz King scored on a 3-yard pass, and then Aaron Dobson brought in a 6-yard toss. On the latter drive, Travon Van took a screen pass and ran it 40 yards deep into Ohio territory.
But as quickly as the Herd jumped ahead, Tettleton and the Bobcats ripped the momentum away. Marshall outgained Ohio 179-51 in the first quarter, but the Bobcats turned the tables with a 204-43 lead in the second. Ohio ran 33 plays in that second quarter.
The Herd survived an exchange of turnovers before Cato got clicking again. He hit Wilson for 16 on a third-and-10, tossed to old friend Tommy Shuler for 7 on third-and-4 and hit Hoskins for the final 14 to put the Herd up 21-17 with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
After a stop, the Herd drove from its 16 to the 21, then settled for Justin Haig's 37-yard field goal and a 24-17 lead. That set up a harried final 14 minutes, ending in those two game-flipping turnovers.
Ohio (3-0) entered the game plus-3 in turnover margin in wins over Penn State and New Mexico State.
"I learned a long time ago that turnovers will be the No. 1 thing to take you out of a game," Solich said. "So we work that tremendously hard, and it's certainly been a plus for us in the first three games. You never know - sometimes they come in bunches. When they do, it's tough on you."
Shuler led the Herd with 13 catches for 121 yards, while Dobson had 11 receptions for 94. They and other receivers had to carry the load, as the Herd rushed for just 59 yards.
"We had a lot of runs called, and he ended up throwing it," Holliday said. "We're going to take what that defensive gives us."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.