On a cold and rainy day at Joan C. Edwards Stadium Saturday afternoon, Marshall football's defense was red hot as it bullied Old Dominion for a 27-7 win to begin conference play and make it 17 wins out of its last 18 games at home.
Marshall's (4-1, 1-0) swarming defensive attack held Old Dominion (2-3, 0-1) to 117 yards on 46 plays through three quarters while allowing only six first downs. The Monarchs finished the game with 285 total yards of offense with a big chunk coming during mop up time at the end of the contest.
The seven points allowed in the contest was the fewest points allowed to a conference opponent under Marshall head coach Doc Holliday's six-year tenure.
Evan McKelvey led the Herd attack with 13 tackles and Ryan Bee added 12, with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. McKelvey suffered a season-ending ACL injury to the Monarchs last season in Norfolk.
"Somebody told me at the end of the game that he was the MVP," Holliday said, "and I said I'd never heard of a backup defensive end being the MVP of the game, but I guess there's a first for everything. He's a tremendous young player who is very athletic for a 6-7 guy."
Marshall's opening possession lasted a mere six seconds after Hyleck Foster coughed up the football on the opening kickoff. Marvin Branch made the recovery for the Monarchs at the Herd 37-yard line only to hand the ball back to Marshall after a four play, 3-yard drive.
Marshall marched to the Old Dominion 11 before Tony Pittman lost the ball on the turf for another Herd turnover. Pat Toal made the recovery for the Monarchs at their own 9-yard line as Marshall searched for answers for the slippery conditions.
"It was tough in the wet conditions, but you just have to hold it tighter and put two hands on the ball," Pittman said. "I really like playing in weather like this."
With the Marshall offense stuck in neutral, the defense sprung into action with hopes of gaining the momentum. Shuler Bentley lost the ball on his own 16-yard line after Gary Thompson forced a sack, fumble and made the recovery all on the same play.
Marshall capitalized on the Old Dominion turnover after Chase Litton fired a 10-yard strike to Deon-Tay McManus on the first play from scrimmage to give the Herd a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
"I knew off their alignment we had it, actually had it on both sides, and the right side is the one I chose and we got a touchdown with it," Litton said.
Bentley's day went from bad to worse on the ensuing drive, after Corey Tindal hauled in his first interception of the season. Marshall started on its own 43-yard line but failed to cash in on the miscue.
Marshall's offense came to life to open the second quarter. Litton connected with Ryan Yurachek, Deandre Reaves, Davonte Allen and McManus through the air and Tony Pittman chipped away at the Monarchs' defense, finally breaking free for a 23-yard gain to the Old Dominion 1-yard line. Three plays later, Pittman rumbled into the end zone for his third score of the season and a 14-0 Herd lead at the break.
Old Dominion's offensive struggles continued to start the second half, going three and out to open the quarter in only 50 seconds.
After trading punts, Litton found Yurachek from 31 yards out to move the ball to the Old Dominion 13-yard line. Two plays later, Yurachek punched it in from 7 yards and a 21-0 Marshall lead.
With Old Dominion's offense stuck in the mud, Pittman went to work for the Herd's offense. The sophomore running back carried the load nine times in the 15-play drive while gaining 35 of his team-high 127 yards on 32 carries. Pittman's 32 carries was the most by a Herd player since Darius Marshall's 32 against UAB in 2009.
Nick Smith booted at 37-yard field goal after the drive stalled at the Monarchs 20-yard line, extending Marshall's lead to 24.
Old Dominion rolled the dice on fourth down from its own 25-yard line only to come up short after Bentley's pass toward Jonathan Duhart missed its mark.
Smith connected from 39 yards, pushing Marshall's lead to 27 with 11:51 left in the contest.
Old Dominion's offense began to show signs of life as Ray Lawry rumbled the Monarchs to the Marshall 18-yard line. Facing fourth and one, Lawry was stuffed for a loss of one by Bee and Shawn Petty, forcing Old Dominion's third turnover on downs in the game.
"We were just buying into what the coaches had been telling us all week," Petty said of the play.
With Marshall's defense trying to pitch a shutout for the first time since a 2013 win over Gardner Webb, Lawry raced in from 10 yards out with several of Marshall's primary defenders on the sideline, trimming the deficit to 27-7 with 2:53 left in the game.
"If you leave a guy like Corey Tindal, Jarquez Samuel and D.J. Hunter in there on one of those series and one of them gets hurt and we lose them for next week, that's not smart," Holliday said. "So, we get some young kids in there; number one to get them playing a little bit and number two to try and protect some of those other guys, because it's a long season."
The score was Old Dominion's first since Bentley hit Duhart with 2:48 left in the third quarter against N.C. State Sept. 19.
Rather than allowing the clock to expire at the end of the game, Bentley elected to fire a pass toward the end zone from the Herd 31 only to have Kendall Gant record his first career interception to close out the victory.
Marshall welcomes Southern Miss to Huntington Friday night at 7 p.m. as Conference USA action continues.