Marshall football: Turnovers again a problem for Herd against Ohio
ATHENS, Ohio - It wasn't that the Marshall football team didn't know how crucial turnovers - the ones the Thundering Herd committed and the ones the Ohio Bobcats hadn't - were in the two previous meetings before Saturday night "Battle for the Bell."
In fact, the Herd knew it all too well.
In those two games, the Herd gave the ball away nine times to Ohio's three and, in both those games, Marshall walked away with the loss. Yet the Herd's hands weren't any stickier Saturday night.
Marshall committed another four turnovers - three fumbles and an interception - and the result was the same. The Bobcats scored their third straight win in the series, this time 34-31 in Peden Stadium. It's the first three-game win streak for Ohio versus Marshall since the 1978-80 seasons.
"It was very frustrating," senior offensive lineman Garrett Scott said. "In order to win the game, you've got to take care of the ball. All of us feel like we didn't accomplish that goal. Our goal is to have no turnovers throughout the game, so we didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish."
Those three fumbles, two of which led to touchdowns, were the first three the Herd has given away this season. That sent them plummeting from a tie for first in the Football Bowl Subdivision to a tie for 89th. Until Saturday, Marshall had been the ball hawks, picking up three fumbles and four interceptions in the first two games.
Once again, though, the balls bounced off the turf against the Bobcats and they weren't bouncing Marshall's way. Quarterback Rakeem Cato said that just seemed to be a trend in this rivalry.
"They always seem to 'luck up,'" Cato said. "Every time we play them, it always seems something happens."
The flukiest fumble came with 5:08 left in the first half and put the Herd (2-1) into a two-score hole. After a 32-yard Matt Green field goal gave Ohio a 10-7 lead, Josiah Yazdani's ensuing kickoff landed at the Marshall 5. Steward Butler attempted to field it on the bounce, but try as he might, he couldn't gain control. He juggled it, then bobbled it into the end zone, where Toran Davis fell on it for a touchdown and a 17-7 Ohio lead.
"Offensively, we can't turn the ball over and that one kickoff return was unacceptable," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said.
Marshall stayed turnover-free for much of the second half and that allowed the Herd to pull within striking distance to tie. Cato tossed a 38-yard touchdown to tight end Gator Hoskins to cut Ohio's lead to 31-24, then forced the Bobcats to punt on their next drive. But Marshall's drive lasted just one pass.
On first and 10 on the Marshall 17, Cato threw toward Demetrius Evans on the right sideline. Evans slipped on the route, and Devin Bass was all alone for the interception on the Herd 33. That set up a 29-yard Green field goal for a 34-24 lead and the ability to weather Cato's touchdown scramble with 29 seconds left.
"That's me," Cato said of the pick. "He slipped down, but I shouldn't have thrown the ball anyway. That was all on me."
Those turnovers blocked Marshall from a momentum-building win and a breakthrough against the Bobcats, who have had the Herd's number since 2011. It also cast a pall over a night where Cato's 367 yards on 30-of-45 passing gave him 7,109 for his career and pushed him to third in Herd career passing yards and fourth in career total offense with 7,267 yards.
They also set Marshall back going into this Saturday's visit to Blacksburg, Va., and Virginia Tech's even tougher defense. The Hokies and the Herd is among 13 teams tied for 12th in the FBS with seven turnovers gained.
"We just have to take the good out of this game and take it to that stadium," Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler said. "We started kind of slow, but we fought to the end."
It probably wouldn't hurt to remember some of the bad as well, namely those turnovers, as a warning for what slippery fingers could cost them.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.