HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- At every third down Marshall's defense forced against Ohio on Saturday night, the Thundering Herd fans bellowed, their voices filling Joan C. Edwards Stadium, exhorting the Herd defense while trying to rattle the Bobcats offense.
Yet in crucial situations, especially in the first half, it was the pocket of Ohio fans cheering once third down was over.
The Herd's inability to force Ohio to punt in the second quarter allowed the Bobcats to extend drives and turn a two-touchdown deficit into a three-point lead at halftime. It cut into the Herd's momentum and Ohio was able to stay close enough through the rest of the game to snatch away a 27-24 victory.
"Defensively, we were a little bit on our heels that first half," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "I thought we made some adjustments at halftime and defensively, we came out and played well in the second half and made some critical stops. We just couldn't get off the field."
At no time was that truer than the second quarter, when the Bobcats rattled off scoring drives of 16, 11 and 13 plays that turned what looked like a blowout in the first quarter into a nail-biter at the half. Ohio's 16-play drive started near the end of the first quarter, included four third downs the Bobcats converted to first downs and ended with Tyler Tettleton's six-yard touchdown throw to Troy Hill.
On the next drive, Ohio faced a third and nine on Marshall's 32 and Tettleton hit Matt Waters on a 22-yard pass.
The Bobcats got as close as Marshall's 5 and had to settle for a field goal. Ohio converted two third downs on the next drive, though one was a Marshall gift. The Bobcats faced third-and-6 on their own 19, and Keith Baxter was flagged for pass interference. A five-yard Ryan Boykin rush on third-and-2 at Marshall's 40 continued that drive, which ended in Tettleton's four-yard scoring pass to Tyler Futrell.
In that second quarter, Ohio outgained Marshall 204-33, more than doubled the Herd's time of possession, converted five of six third downs and went from down 14-0 to up 17-14.
"Those third downs, we have to execute on third down," defensive end Alex Bazzie said. "We can't let a team like that, that can carry momentum at any point in time, get those big plays. Once they get those big plays, their momentum builds up."
Bazzie said the defense demanded better from itself during halftime and, for the most part, lived up to its own challenge. The Herd held Ohio to just 61 total yards in the third quarter and the Bobcats converted just one of four third downs. Marshall stayed solid in the fourth quarter, save for one heartbreaking drive.
On the drive that let the Bobcats tie the game at 24, Ohio converted two third-and-10 situations, one at its own 20 and one at its own 32. Then, on fourth-and-5 at Marshall's 27, Tettleton found Ryan Clark for a touchdown.
Bazzie said looking at the film of that drive will be a bitter pill to swallow.