Marshall sends ODU to third straight defeat by silencing its offense

Fans seeking excitement and electric plays were barking up the wrong tree Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

But at least they likely slept well afterward — if not during.

Rece Verhoff kicked four field goals and Marshall took advantage of a horrid offensive performance by Old Dominion in a 12-0 Sun Belt Conference win.

The loss was the third straight for the Monarchs (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt), who now must win their final three games to achieve bowl eligibility.

The Thundering Herd (5-4, 2-3) became the first team to shut out ODU since 13th-ranked Virginia Tech in 2017. It was the fourth time this season Marshall has held a team without a touchdown.

“You have to score points to win games, and we didn’t do that today,” Monarchs coach Ricky Rahne said. “They have a very talented and deep defense, but we made them look better than they are today.”

Marshall, which entered leading the Sun Belt in most defensive statistics, came as advertised. The Herd held ODU to a season-low 209 yards of total offense.

But the Monarchs hardly helped themselves. They were whistled for seven penalties for 75 yards, threw an interception and lost three fumbles. They also allowed 387 yards of total offense, including 298 on the ground.

Khalan Laborn, a former star at Princess Anne High, scorched his hometown team with 139 yards on 31 carries.

Verhoff connected from 33, 26, 30 and 23 yards as ODU’s defense held firm in the red zone. A 42-yard attempt was blocked in the fourth quarter.

The Monarchs’ offense, meanwhile, was rendered anemic. They rushed 14 times for 11 yards, and quarterback Hayden Wolff completed 24 of 36 passes for 198 yards.

ODU last lost three in a row last season as part of a five-game slide. That was followed by five straight victories and a bowl bid.

“We’re not even as low as we were last year,” said defensive end Marcus Haynes. “So we know what we have to do.”

Star running back Blake Watson, who rushed for a school-record 259 yards just weeks ago at Coastal Carolina, carried 10 times for 28 yards.

The Monarchs scuffled from start to finish. They had accumulated minus-4 total yards in the fourth quarter until a drive that began with 6 1/2 minutes to go. It ended a minute later with a Wolfe sack and fumble. They finished with 35 fourth-quarter yards.

ODU linebacker Jason Henderson, who leads the nation in tackles, finished with 19 to turn in his ninth consecutive double-digit performance. Henderson’s 148 tackles are the fourth-highest season total in Sun Belt history.

On a warm, breezy afternoon, an announced crowd of 18,327 watched as ODU turned in its worst performance of the season.

After the Monarchs, trailing 12-0, turned it over on downs near midfield after four incomplete passes with 9 1/2 minutes to play, they walked back to the sideline under a hail of boos.

The Monarchs finally got the break they needed when, after a penalty for unnecessary roughness set Marshall up at the ODU 20 late in the third quarter, a potential touchdown pass was batted away in the end zone by Tobias Harris and into the arms of a falling Tre Hawkins.

But four plays later, Wolff threw an interception deep inside ODU territory, and Verhoff kicked his fourth field goal of the game, this one from 23 yards.

The Monarchs entered the game 129th out of 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in third-down success, converting at a rate of 26%. They converted 2 of 14 and punted eight times.

The Monarchs could get nothing going in a first half in which their most successful offensive play was a punt. They posted 131 total yards to Marshall’s 203 and possessed the ball for just over 11 minutes.

Verhoff kicked a 26-yard field goal with 10:35 remaining in the second quarter to give Marshall a 6-0 lead it took into halftime. The score came after Monarchs backup quarterback D.J. Mack, lined up as a receiver, caught a short pass and coughed up a fumble that was returned 20 yards to the ODU 22.

Verhoff’s 33-yard field goal gave the Thundering Herd a 3-0 lead just over a minute into the second quarter.

ODU’s offensive highlight of the half was a 59-yard punt by Ethan Duane that was downed on the 1-yard line.

The Monarchs returned 17 starters from last season’s team, including 10 on offense.

But Rahne said it’s impossible to give general cause for why those same players aren’t performing.

“The bottom line is we’re not executing for a number of different reasons,” he said. “And I think that sometimes, myself included, we want to look for one reason. The problem is we have 113 guys on our team. So for me to look at one reason why a guy is or is not executing, I think that would be disingenuous of me.”

David Hall, david.hall@pilotonline.com