CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Now it’s a game of ifs.
The Marshall football team lost control of its divisional title hopes on Saturday following a 24-13 setback to host Charlotte in a Conference USA East Division matchup at Richardson Stadium.
The Thundering Herd (7-4, 5-2 CUSA East) entered the day tied with Florida Atlantic atop the East Division standings with identical 5-1 records, but the Green and White did hold the tiebreaker after beating the Owls in Boca Raton earlier this fall.
The 49ers (6-5, 4-3), however, overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half and tacked on a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns en route to not only snapping Marshall’s 5-game winning streak, but also becoming bowl-eligible for the first time in program history.
The loss pushes MU one game behind FAU in the standings after the Owls claimed a 40-26 victory at UTSA on Saturday.
Marshall, however, is still in contention to show up in the Conference USA championship game if it can defeat Florida International next weekend at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, plus have Southern Miss knock off Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton — again creating a tie in the East Division standings.
If FAU defeats the Golden Eagles, the Owls clinch the CUSA East title outright … regardless of Marshall’s outcome.
There were three turnovers on the opening six drives of the game, but neither squad was able to do anything with those takeaways in the rain-soaked conditions.
Marshall did come up with the first big play of the game as Darius Hodge blocked a UNCC punt that was picked up and returned 16 yards by Joseph Early — giving the guests a 7-0 advantage with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Justin Rohrwasser added a 31-yard field goal at the 11:11 mark of the second canto, capping a 10-play, 86-yard drive that extended the lead out to 10-0.
The Green and Gold got themselves in the scoring column with 4:25 left in the half as Chris Reynolds rumbled 15 yards, ending an 8-play, 86-yard drive that cut the deficit down to 10-7.
Charlotte tied the game with its opening possession of the second half as Jonathan Cruz nailed a 23-yarder at the 9:46 mark, but Marshall countered with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a successful Rohrwasser 23-yarder for a 13-10 edge with 4:02 left in the third.
UNCC threw an interception on its next drive, but the hosts forced a punt before taking over possession again at its own 23-yard line with 14:47 remaining.
The 49ers covered 77 yards in seven plays and needed only three minutes to take a permanent lead as Victor Tucker plunged in from five yards out — making it a 17-13 contest with 10:47 left in the fourth.
After a pair of 3-and-outs, MU took over possession at its own 13. Two plays later, Nafees Lyon intercepted a deep Isaiah Green pass before going down at the Charlotte 38.
Eleven plays and 62 yards later, the 49ers extended their lead to double digits as Tucker hauled in a 25-yard pass from Reynolds on fourth down — making it a 24-13 contest with just 48 seconds left in regulation.
That nail-in-the-coffin touchdown ended up being the only points scored off of five turnovers in the game. Marshall finished the losing effort plus-1 in turnover differential.
Charlotte claimed a 26-13 advantage in first downs and outgained the guests by a sizable 422-230 margin in total yards of offense, including a 256-144 discrepancy in rushing yards.
The Herd did not produce an offensive touchdown and ended up 2-for-2 in red zone opportunities, both of which resulted in Rohrwasser field goals. MU was also just 2-of-11 on third down conversions.
Brenden Knox led the Marshall ground attack with 92 yards on 22 carries. Green added 18 yards on seven rushes and also completed 6-of-17 passes for 86 yards to go along with two picks.
Armani Levias led the guests with two catches for 17 yards. Knox also hauled in one pass for 40 yards.
Tavante Beckett paced the Herd defense with 15 tackles, forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery. Chris Jackson and Nazeeh Johnson also picked off a pass apiece in the setback.
Reynolds led Charlotte with 145 rushing yards on 25 carries, followed by Benny LeMay with 100 rushing yards on 21 attempts.
Reynolds completed 9-of-21 passes for 166 yards to go along with a touchdown and two interceptions. Tucker caught five passes for 166 yards and a score, plus drew four different pass interference flags against MU.
Jeff Gemmell led Charlotte with 10 tackles and joined Alex Highsmith with a sack each in the win. Marquill Osborne joined Lyon with a defensive interception apiece.
Marshall completes league and regular season play Saturday when it hosts Florida International in a CUSA East matchup at noon.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.