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."