DETROIT - DETROIT (AP) — Martin Ward ran for two touchdowns in the first half Saturday and Marshall held off Ohio 21-17 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
DeQuan Bembry's interception with 40 seconds left sealed the victory for the Thundering Herd (7-6), who led by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter.
The Bobcats (9-5) rallied with Shannon Ballard's 75-yard return off a fumble in the second quarter, Terrence McCrae's TD catch and Matt Weller's field goal. Ohio had chances to complete the comeback but was stunted on the drive before its final possession.
The game looked like it was going to be a route when Ward's 2-yard run put Marshall ahead 21-0 with 7:21 left in the first half. Ward scored on a 12-yard run late in the first quarter and Andre Booker had 58-yard punt return for a touchdown at the end of the quarter.
Just when it appeared as if the Herd were going to make the game lopsided, Ballard returned a fumble 75 yards and gave Ohio a much-needed spark. The Bobcats carried the momentum into the second half, when Theo Scott connected with a leaping McCrae in the end zone on an 8-yard pass midway through the third quarter.
Weller's 46-yard field goal made it 21-17.
Marshall didn't have a first down after halftime until its fourth possession, then it negated a 20-yard gain with a holding penalty and was forced to punt.
Ohio drove to the Marshall 13 on the ensuing drive — taking advantage of two late-hit penalties against the Herd — but stalled and missed a field goal that would've pulled the Bobcats within a point early in the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats stayed in the game despite just 123 yards of offense.
Marshall didn't exactly move up and down the field at will, but it scored enough early in the game to win. Brian Anderson was 12 of 17 for 85 yards for the Herd, and Ward ran for 72 yards and two scores on nine carries.
Scott was 14 of 26 for 111 yards with a TD and an interception for Ohio. Chris Garrett was held to 30 yards on 10 carries and Taylor Price caught four passes for 49 yards.
The schools, located 82 miles apart, played 52 times between 1905 and 2004 in "The Battle for the Bell," with the trophy symbolizing the Ohio River separating Ohio and West Virginia. They hadn't played since Marshall left the Mid-American Conference for Conference USA in 2005.
Ohio was led by Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, while the Herd had interim coach Rick Minter on their sideline. Mark Snyder resigned at Marshall after the season and will be replaced by John "Doc" Holliday, who was an assistant to Urban Meyer on Florida's 2006 national championship team.
Sarah Thomas made history during the game, becoming the first woman to officiate a bowl game, according to a Little Caesars Bowl spokesman. She was the first woman to be an official for a major college football game in 2007 and is on the NFL's list of officiating prospects.