"I let my coaches down, the fans down, and my teammates down," said Ohio kicker Kevin Kerr just minutes after he missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining. Kerr's miss not only secured Marshall's win over the Bobcats, but it also unleashed two other rewards: Marshall won the MAC East division title outright, plus secured an invitation to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on December 18 with the win over Ohio.
"It worked," summed up Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich of the unique two quarterback setup utilized by the Herd against Ohio. Leftwich, still a little hobbled by a ankle/shin injury suffered against Akron on November 2, returned for his first game action since that game. Leftwich moved the ball effectively downfield, and backup Stan Hill was used for short-yardage and goal line situations.
The pair worked as if by design.
"It was great. Byron came in there and picked their defense apart," said Stan Hill. "And when we needed short yardage, I got under center. It worked out."
"I was really pleased with the performance of both of them," said Marshall coach Bob Pruett after Marshall's 24-21 win over Ohio. "Stan did a super job, and Byron gave us a great lift."
Ohio put points on the board first when Chad Brinker broke free on a 48-yard TD run with :57 left in the first quarter. Marshall could only muster a 34-yard Curtis Head field goal in the second quarter, and Ohio took the 7-3 lead at halftime.
Stan Hill lept over Ohio linebacker Rob Stover for what would be the game-winning TD with 8:58 left in the fourth quarter.
However, it was a return to previous form in the third quarter for Marshall. Facing second down and ten, Leftwich fired a 40-yard touchdown pass to Denero Marriott -wide open down the middle of the field- with 10:25 left in the third quarter. A little less than 6 minutes later, Franklin Wallace punched it in from two yards out for another TD, and the Herd had a comfy 17-7 lead.
"We knew we were going to be able to run the ball," said MU running back Franklin Wallace. "I had confidence in the offensive line, and they got the job done."
Ohio wasn't done, not by any means. Chad Brinker found Joe Mohler wide open and hit him with a 58-yard scoring pass with 3:40 remaining in the third. However, Kevin Kerr's extra point kick was blocked by Marshall, leaving the score at 17-13.
Then with 8:58 remaining in the game, Marshall quarterback Stan Hill had a case of deja 'vu all over again. In a play almost identical to the one used on the game-winning score against Miami (OH) the week before (this one was run all the way, whereas the Miami play was intended to end in a pass), Hill ran a bootleg out to his left and cut the corner. (See photo, above) His leap into the endzone over Ohio linebacker Rob Stover looked familiar to Marshall fans, and proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
"It was a designed run," said Stan Hill of the TD run. "I just followed (MU lineman Steve) Perretta. It wasn't that hard."
That was due to Ohio's Fred Ray. On the very next possession, Ray ran in from 8 yards out with only 3:49 left in the game to bring OU within five points, 24-19. Chad Brinker popped in the endzone on the two-point conversion, and suddenly, Ohio was right back in the game, down only 24-21.
In bizarre fashion of late, Marshall was stopped on fourth down and one yard to go, and Ohio's Fred Ray began marching the Bobcats down the field as the game clock approached only 1 minute remaining. Facing fourth down and 8 yards to go on the Marshall 30 yard line, kicker Kevin Kerr was sent in for the game-tying 48-yard field goal with only :25 left in the game. Kerr's kick went wide to the left, and sealed the Marshall win.
"It doesn't matter what percentage I'm playing. Can I help the team win?" was Leftwich's summation of his performance.
The one-two Leftwich-Hill combo proved effective: Leftwich was 19-of-29 with one interception and 219 yards, while Hill took care of red zone and short yardage situations (including the touchdown run). Together, the duo racked up an impressive 434 yard of total offense, aided by Franklin Wallace's 131 yards rushing on 29 carries.
Ohio ran for 221 yards against the Marshall defense, while passing for only 124 yards. Duran Smith led Marshall with 9 tackles, including one for loss. Jamus Martin had 8 tackles, including two for loss and one sack of OU's Ray.
Marshall hosts Ball State next Saturday at Marshall Stadium in Huntington, before preparing to host the MAC Championship game on December 7 as well against the still up-in-the-air winner of the MAC West division.