HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — When the Thundering Herd found themselves on the ropes, they answered the bell.
In doing so, they also got to keep it.
Xavier Gaines hauled in a game-winning 43-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Green with 7:45 left in regulation, allowing Marshall to claim a hard-fought 33-31 gridiron victory over visiting Ohio on Saturday evening in the 60th Battle for the Bell meeting held at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The Thundering Herd (2-1) never trailed in the first half and were ahead 27-24 entering the finale, but the Bobcats (1-2) secured their only lead of the night following a 72-yard scamper by quarterback Nathan Rourke — making it a 31-27 contest with 11:14 remaining.
The hosts, however, responded with their only scoring drive in the second half after marching 75 yards in seven plays — with Green finding Gaines on a pivotal third-and-five play from the OU 43.
Gaines caught the pass on the left side of the field, then broke back to the middle while eluding defenders and strolled into the end zone for a two-point advantage.
Marshall missed the impending point-after kick, which left the contest at 33-31 with 7:45 remaining.
The Bobcats managed to get the ball to their own 43 on the ensuing drive before punting the ball down to the MU 3-yard line with 5:42 left in the game.
The Herd strung together a 10-play drive that ultimately pushed the ball down to the Ohio two. MU — with a first-and-goal situation and 1:17 remaining — simply took a pair of kneel-downs to run out the clock … and secured its first Battle for the Bell win since the 2014 campaign.
In a game that featured 949 yards of total offense and only one turnover — a third quarter fumble by Ohio with 5:59 left — it was Marshall that made the most of its opportunities.
Ohio — which won the last Battle for the Bell meeting in 2015 — still owns a 33-21-6 lead in the head-to-head series with MU, but the Bobcats have also dropped two consecutive decisions overall.
Gaines ended up starting what he finished after scoring on a 26-yard run during the opening drive of the game, giving the hosts a 7-0 cushion at the 12:45 mark of the first period.
Both teams traded punts on their ensuing possessions, then Ohio answered with its first points as Louie Zervos drilled a 44-yard field goal at the 7:51 mark for a 7-3 contest.
Justin Rohrwasser completed the first quarter scoring with a 38-yard field goal at the 3:55 mark for a 10-3 advantage.
The Bobcats followed with an 8-play, 59-yard drive that resulted in a 10-all tie as Rourke found Shane Hooks on a 20-yard TD pass in the front right corner of the end zone with 14:09 remaining in the second frame.
MU, however, answered with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard TD run by Brenden Knox at the 9:18 mark — pushing the hosts back out in front by a 17-10 count.
Ohio countered with a 6-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Rourke finding De’Montre Tuggle on an 18-yard TD pass at the 6:09 mark for a tie game at 17-all.
The Herd retaliated with the final two scores of the first half. Devin Miller hauled in a 22-yard pass from Green at the 3:12 mark for a 24-17 advantage, then Rohrwasser tacked on a 37-yard field goal with 54 seconds left in the second for a 27-17 cushion at the break.
Marshall held a 336-205 advantage in total yards at halftime, which included a sizable 205-73 edge in rushing yards. Both teams were 2-of-2 on red zone scoring chances, but the hosts also claimed a 16-9 advantage in first downs.
After somewhat lackluster defensive efforts in the first half, both teams started to tighten things up a bit in the second half — including a punt by each squad to start the third quarter.
Ohio produced the first score of the second half with 8:03 remaining in the third as Rourke found Ryan Luehrman on a 7-yard TD pass on the right side of the end zone — capping a 7-play, 74-yard drive that whittled the lead down to 27-24.
Marshall was forced to punt on its next series, but Steven Gilmore stripped the ball away from OU return man Jerome Buckner. Armani Levias recovered the fumble at the Ohio 46 — but the hosts ultimately punted the ball back on the ensuing drive.
Both teams traded a punt apiece on their following possessions, but Ohio finally grabbed its first lead early in the fourth as Rourke capped a 5-play, 91-yard drive on an quarterback keeper that went 72 yards to the house for a 31-27 edge with 11:14 remaining.
Marshall outgained the guests by a 511-438 margin in total yards, which included a 305-223 advantage on the ground. MU claimed a 24-18 edge in first downs and also finished the night plus-1 in turnover differential.
Both teams punted the ball away five times apiece, and neither squad recorded a sack in the contest.
Knox — who did not play in the second half — led the Herd ground attack with 133 yards on 16 carries, followed by Sheldon Evans with 77 yards on 17 attempts.
Green completed 17-of-28 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, plus added 50 rushing yards on six totes. Levias hauled in a team-high five catches for 29 yards, while Gaines added 53 receiving yards on three grabs.
Tavante Beckett led the MU defense with 11 tackles and Nazeeh Johnson followed with eight stops.
Rourke paced the Bobcats with 118 rushing yards on nine carries and also completed 15-of-25 passes for 215 yards and three scores. O’Shaan Allison also ran for 60 yards on a dozen attempts.
Leuhrman and Isiah Cox each hauled in four passes apiece for 60 and 61 yards, respectively.
Javon Hagan led the OU defense with 12 tackles, while the trio of Jarren Hampton, Dylan Conner and Jared Dorsa made 11 stops each in the setback.
Ohio returns to action Saturday when it hosts the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns at Peden Stadium for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
Marshall heads into a bye week and returns to Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 28, when it hosts the Cincinnati Bearcats at 5 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.