BOGACZYK: Herd Needs More than Mettle to Win at Kent
The Word on the Herd-Sept. 27, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
KENT, Ohio – There was a four-letter word to describe Marshall’s football reaction here Saturday at Dix Stadium.
The Thundering Herd needed two overtimes -- plus plenty of resiliency and resourcefulness – to get past host Kent State, 36-29, in the season’s non-conference finale before a crowd of 15,424.
It was the kind of roller coaster game Coach Doc Holliday has talked about in the past, the kind that says something about a team.
“When you don’t play your best and you can still win,” Holliday said, “it’s the mark of as good team.” Against a quality and aggressive third-ranked Kent State defense that came as advertised – and came from all angles – the Herd (3-1) got 129 of its 277 total yards on the rushing of third-string running back Tony Pittman, who had two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
True freshman quarterback Chase Litton dealt with everything from Cover 1 through 4 and more, and struggled mightily on a 14-of-36 day with two interceptions. He also was sacked five times. But when it was needed most – on a last-gasp play in the first OT -- the rookie’s sprint left and sinking 3-yard completion to Davonte Allen kept the Herd in it to win it on the next possession.
“I just told ‘em (in the locker room) … I’m so proud of ‘em, because they found a way to win the game,” Holliday said. “That’s the only thing that matters, to come out of here with a win. And we’ve got some guys banged up and we played some young guys and they didn’t play real well at times, but you know what -- at the end of the day -- that play that Chase made and Davonte made to get us to that second overtime was as good a play as I’ve ever seen.”
Marshall is now 8-6 in overtime, including 5-6 in major college competition, starting with the 2001 GMAC Bowl triumph over East Carolina. Holliday is in his sixth season, and the Herd has played seven OT games in those five-plus years.
Pittman got 24 carries because starting running back Devon Johnson left after only five carries (for nine yards) with an injury. His top backup, Remi Watson, also remains out after suffering an injury in the loss at Ohio. Pittman ran, senior guard Sebastian Johansson said, “like he always does in practice; he’s a pit bull.”
The redshirt sophomore’s 7-yard run in the first possession of the second OT – on which he was escorted into the end zone by backup right tackle AJ Addison, a late insertion on the Herd front – was the difference once the game ended on incomplete passes by the Golden Flashes (1-3).
However, this game changed on a momentum-turning, 93-yard kick return for a touchdown by the Herd’s Deandre Reaves in the third quarter – trimming a two-touchdown Kent lead -- and the game-long, field-flipping punting of fellow senior Tyler Williams.
Williams was arguably the game’s most valuable performer in a contest in which the third-down conversions numbers were a combined 9-of-38.
The contest between former Mid-American Conference foes included 24 punts – 12 by each team – tying the Marshall record for combined punts in a game set with a 24-punt Herd home victory over Ohio in 1985. The 1,077 punt yards by both teams also was a Herd single-game standard.
Williams averaged 46.8 yards on his career-high dozen boots. By putting seven of them inside the 20, he broke Kase Whitehead’s single-game record of five set in a 2011 win over Southern Miss. Williams’ 562 yards in the game also were an MU single-game individual mark.
It was Reaves’ return with 8:51 left in the third quarter, however, that was the game’s crucial play as far as the banged-up and offensive-starved Herd was concerned.
“We can always use big plays like that,” said Reaves, whose Boca Raton Bowl kick return TD last December against MAC champ Northern Illinois came from the same 93-yard distance. “The credit goes to the other 10 guys out there who blocked their tails off and make my job easier, and I felt like I gave us the momentum to keep this thing rolling.
“Anytime you get a touchdown on special teams, it’s a momentum changer, a game changer. Whether we were up by 20 or down a couple of points, I wanted a game changer.”
Holliday found plenty to like on Marshall’s special teams.
“With the exception – we’ve got to clean up the turnover deal (Reaves’ fumble with a punt return before halftime) -- our special teams played well,” Holliday said. “Our kicker (Nick Smith) made every extra point. Our guy who kicks off (Amoreto Curraj) had a bunch of non-returnables again and our punter kept flipping the field, which gave us a chance.
“We’ve got to get better in all three phases, but you know what? I think this football team found out a lot about themselves today, to come on the road against a good defense and played the way it did.”
The Herd had trailed most of the game when Litton bolted from the pocket, heading right, and found tight end Ryan Yurachek with a 17-yard scoring pass with 12:32 left in the fourth quarter. After a costly Kent penalty on a missed two-point conversion pass try to Yurachek, Pittman ran for two give the visitors a 22-19 lead.
Shane Hyles’ 33-yard field goal for the Golden Flashes with 4:55 left in regulation tied it again.
“I can’t say enough about how the offense never gave up,” Yurachek said. “At times we weren’t executing, but we never gave up and you can’t say enough about the defense keeping us in it … The offensive line wasn’t bad, but they got some pressure on (Litton) and we had to handle that, had to handle getting sacked. He didn’t get sacked all last week (in Litton’s collegiate debut in a rout of Norfolk State), so he got his first taste of that, but he matured a lot tonight.”
Litton, who had a pass intercepted on his first series, said he “just had to make checks and slow the game down. The first half, I was looking at the right and I was rushing. I have to feel that. In the second half, it showed down a little and in the overtime, we had some success.
“(Kent State) just mixed things up, whether it was Cover 1 through 4, whatever they did, the front seven mixed things up, which confused us a little bit. We came in and knew they’d mix some things up, and that’s exactly what they did.”
The Herd quarterback said his team getting the ball back for the second OT immediately after scoring was a big plus.
“That momentum helped us a lot,” Litton said. “It gave us confidence … The ball’s in our court now. We just knew that once we tied it up, we had to help out our defense. They were there all game – it’s time for us.”
Defensively, Marshall allowed 436 yards and went 89 plays, but the Herd was very good on third down as Kent State converted only 5-of-20. Linebacker Evan McKelvey was superb for Marshall with a career-best 18 tackles and his first career fumble recovery, while defensive end Gary Thompson added 10 tackles and safety Tiquan Lang came off the bench with nine hits.
The Marshall defense also turned in eight three-and-outs, taking its total to 28 in four games.
“I want to be the guy to make the big play,” McKelvey said. “I want to be that guy.”
Now, the Herd gets two straight games at home to open Conference USA play. Old Dominion (2-2) visits Edwards Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 before Southern Miss heads to “The Joan” for a Friday night (Oct.9) game.
“Anytime you go on the road, it’s always a challenge,” Reaves said. “You go in someone else’s place and try to stay focus and play our game.”
SEEN ‘N’ HERD: Besides the loss of Johnson and Watson not being dressed, the Herd also played without injured all-conference right tackle Clint Van Horn for a second straight game and also didn’t have middle linebacker Shawn Petty, who has yet to play this season as he recovers from concussion symptoms … The 12 punts apiece by Williams and Kent’s Anthony Melchiori were one off the major college season high of 13 by Utah State’s Aaron Dalton in a season opener against Southern Utah … McKelvey’s 18 tackles tied the high by several Herd players in recent past seasons (DJ Hunter, Neville Hewitt, Jermaine Holmes). The last time a Herd player had more than 18 were the 21 by linebacker Mario Harvey at Tulane in 2010 … Smith hasn’t missed a place-kick this season. The Ohioan is perfect on 16 PAT tries and four field goal attempts … Until Saturday, Pittman’s career-high rushing total was 37 yards, set last season against Southern Miss … Kent State had a time of possession advantage of 8:42.