Courtesy of ODU Athletics/Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – Faced with the unenviable task of scoring against the Sun Belt Conference’s best defense, Old Dominion’s offense struggled mightily at S.B. Ballard Stadium Saturday.

Unable to get its ground game going, and stymied by four turnovers, the Monarchs were shut out for the first time in five years. Marshall rode the leg of freshman placekicker Rece Verhoff, who made four of five field goal attempts, to claim a 12-0 victory.

ODU had not been shut out since Sept. 23, 2017, when the Monarchs fell to No. 13 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 38-0. The loss was the third in a row for ODU (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt).

Marshall claimed one of the biggest upsets of the season earlier this year when the Herd stunned then No. 8 Notre Dame, 26-21 in South Bend, Indiana. The Herd had struggled ever since, losing four of the next six games.

Saturday’s victory leaves Marshall (5-4, 2-3) one victory short of bowl eligibility.

ODU was outgained, 387-209, although the Herd padded the total late in the game on a 41-yard by Marshall quarterback Cam Fancher.  The 209 yards was a season low for the Monarchs.

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

The four turnovers, including three fumbles lost  “killed some of our drives,” Rahne added. ODU fumbled four times, although one was a muffed punt recovered by the Monarchs.

“The other other three fumbles were inexcusable,” Rahne said. “They were complete ball security issues. We have core fundamentals when it comes to carrying the football.”

Quarterback Hayden Wolff completed 24 of 46 passes for 198 yards and one interception. He was sacked three times.

ODU managed just 11 yards rushing.

Only a heroic effort by ODU’s defense kept this game relatively close. The Monarch defense was on the field for 38 minutes and 11 seconds, almost 17 minutes less than the offense. Marshall had 81 offensive plays to ODU’s 60.

ODU trailed, 6-0, at the half, when Herd marched nine plays for 63 yards to the Monarch 15, where on fourth down, the ODU defense held Marshall a yard away from a first down.

The Herd was forced to call on Verhoff to kick his third field goal of the day, this one from 30 yards, that made it 9-0.

ODU’s offense then turned the ball over at the 50, when wide receiver Javon Harvey gathered in a pass from Wolff but was stripped of the ball by Marshall’s Kerion Martin and the Herd recovered. ODU coach Ricky Rahne called a timeout, vehemently contesting the ball was ripped away after Harvey was down. But after an official review, the play stood.

ODU’s defense then stood tall again as Tobias Harris knocked a ball away from a Marshall receiver and into the hands of Tre Hawkins in the end zone.

The Monarch offense then coughed up the ball one more time, as Wolff’s pass up the middle was intercepted by linebacker Abraham Beauplan and returned seven yards to the ODU 24.

Again, the defense held and again, as Verhoff kicked a field goal, this one from 23 yards, that made it 12-0 with 10:50 to go.

Verhoff finally missed, when he had a 41-yard attempt blocked by Chazz Wallace, with 6:26 left.

But ODU was unable to muster any threats the rest of the way.

Early on the defense forced the Herd to kick two field goals while inside the red zone, and then forced a turnover to end another first-half scoring threat.

Marshall scored a minute into the second quarter after driving 76 yards on 14 plays. The drive stalled when Khalen Laborn, the senior from Virginia Beach, was stacked up five yards short of a first down by E.J. Green and Jason Henderson.

Verhoff then booted a 33-yard field goal.

ODU then turned the ball over as D.J. Mack Jr. fumbled while being tackled by Owen Porter. It was recovered by Andre Sam and returned 22 yards to the ODU 20.

But four plays later, Fancher was forced out of bounds at the 8 on third and goal, and again, the Herd was forced to settle for a Verhoff field goal, this one from 26 yards.

Marshall was again driving at the ODU 38 when safety Shawn Asbury, the sophomore transfer from Boston College, snuffed out the drive by intercepting a Fancher pass.

Senior defensive end Marcus Haynes, who had seven tackles, said in spite of the three-game losing streak, the team’s morale “is better than you think.

“When you lose three in a row, you hear about teams breaking apart, about guys who stop trusting coaches, stff like that. But it’s entirely the opposite here. We trust the coaches, we trust each other as brothers.”

ODU plays its final home game Saturday at 1 p.m. against James Madison. It will be the first game with JMU since the teams last met a decade ago as members of the CAA.

The game is a sellout. And among ODU fans, it may be the most anticipated game of the season next to the home opener against Virginia Tech.