Marshall coach Bob Pruett was a man of few words afterwards, and for good reason: his Thundering Herd team had a solid 14-point lead at 28-14 with only 2:18 left in the game, only to see that lead fade away quickly at the hands of Akron QB Charlie Frye and some ill-timed mistakes on the part of his Marshall team.
"We threw this game away," a concerned Pruett said after the game. "We dropped two touchdown passes, fumbled one in the endzone, missed field goals, the punter dropped the ball."
Up until that 2:18 mark of the fourth quarter, Marshall's offense had performed as well as any other game this season: Quarterback Stan HIll chose the ESPN2-broadcast game to drop a stellar 37-of-53 performance for 439 yards and three touchdowns; Hill's favorite receiver, Josh Davis, had hauled in a Marshall game record 15 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown; Add in Brad Bates (11-114, 1 TD), Ahmad Bradshaw (2-36, including a 34-yard TD catch-and-run) and Earl Charles's 1-yard touchdown run, and the 554 yards total offense looked good.
"Stan played extremely well tonight," Pruett added. "He could have had more touchdown passes tonight, but you can't fault Stan. He directed our football team, got some good catches, but we still got beat."
Defensively speaking, Marshall had held Akron quarterback Charlie Frye scoreless in the first and second quarters after Frye scored on the opening drive of the game.
The key Marshall turnover occurred with 7:49 left in the game, when running back Earl Charles dove for the end zone and fumbled the ball, with Akron recovering. Akron coach J.D. Brookhart pointed to that one play as the beginning of the momentum shift in Akron's favor.
"Marshall's fumble in the endzone was a turning point in the game because it reinstilled some belief that we needed at that time," Brookhart said.
Despite the turnover, things still looked good for Marshall, now up 28-14. Then, the 2:18 happened.
With The Herd safely up 28-14, Akron's Frye hit receiver Jason Montgomery on a 6-yard scoring strike that signalled a momentum shift in the game, and closed the Marshall gap to just seven at 28-21. Akron kicker Jason Swiger hit the onsides kick and the Zips recovered with 2:16 left. Montgomery again scored on a 18-yard pass from Frye in the rear corner of the end zone to tie the game at 28-28 with just :45 left in the game.
Marshall punter Ian O'Connor fumbled the punt snap with :06 left, giving Akron the improbable shot at winning the game on a last-second field goal. "It was in the punters hands, he's been special teams player of the week for the past three weeks and he just missed field goals - easy ones," MU coach Pruett said of O'Connor's 0-for-3 night.
Zips kicker Jason Swiger came through on the very next play, though, nailing a 43-yard field goal to ice the come-from-behind win. Akron scored 17 unanswered points in that 2:18 span.
""They called timeout to freeze me, so I just sat down and said a little prayer," Swiger commented. "Once (Jason) Swiger went out there, I knew he was going to make it," quarterback Frye said.
"That's why you play four quarters of football," an exuberant Akron QB Charlie Frye said. "Because every play matters. Hey, things can happen."
Frye made things happen alright, this after being effectively limited by the Marshall defense earlier in the game. Entering the final 2:18, Frye and the Akron offense had sputtered and failed to produce any points in the second quarter. Akron scored more points in that final flurry than in the previous 57 minutes.
"The way it was going, we'd have gotten beat in overtime," Marshall coach Bob Pruett ackowledged.
The Akron win now knots the MAC East in a three-way tie for first place between the Zips, Marshall, and Miami of Ohio. All three are 5-1 in conference play, with Miami and Akron set to square off in two weeks at the Rubber Bowl. Marshall (5-4 overall, 5-1 MAC) moves on to face MAC West power Bowling Green next Saturday in Bowling Green at 12noon.
Pruett could only sum things up with a concerned look. ""The loss was because the way we played," Pruett added. "We let them stay in the game, they hung around and we got beat. We lost as a team, as a coaching staff. We got beat. When you get beat, you're never happy in the way you got beat."
" It was unacceptable."