Herd Rings Up Bobcats, 28-0, In Battle For Bell

It was cold, windy and rainy but the Herd would not let the weather dictate terms in the final game for 15 seniors at the newly christened Joan C. Edwards Stadium, James F. Edwards Field on Friday. The Herd set the terms-defense, holding an opponent under 200 yards of total offense for the second-consecutive game-and the offense running the ball at, around and through the beleaguered Bobcats in a 28-0 shutout of Ohio to set MU's final record at 8-4 for 2003.

Marshall's defense stepped up all game, but set the tempo in the Bobcats first offensive series when Curtis Keyes came up from safety to dislodge the ball from Ohio's quarterback Ryan Hawk. The Marshall offense, which would rush the ball 58 times in the game, needed only six plays to move fourty yards on the ground, with MU quarterback Graham Gocheneaur going in from three yards away. Ohio had no more luck in its second drive, as linebacker J.T. Rembert forced another Bobcat fumble by fullback Brad Young. This time, only one play was needed to cover 40 yards, as defensive end Jonathan Goddard went the distance with the fumble recovery for Marshall's second touchdown. It was a new Marshall record for fumble returns for a touchdown, as Goddard also went the distance on a fumble in the upset of then-number six Kansas State.

Marshall would hold Ohio to a three play, minus-three yard drive on the next series and a 22-yard punt once again set MU up in Ohio territory. Seven plays, 39 yards later and Butchie Wallace went into the endzone for his six touchdown of the year and the 29th in the four-year career of one of Marshall's seniors. Wallace would rush for 108 yards in the game, moving him into seventh all-time at Marshall in rushing with 2,694 career yards. 29 rushing touchdowns is also seventh all-time at MU, this year passing Erik Thomas, Mickey Jackson, Orlando Hatchett and John "The Sheik of Seth" Zontini. Wallace's 192 points also moved him into 11th in scoring all-time, passing the New England Patriots Troy Brown.

But Wallace was out-rushed on the day and the season by backfield mate, Earl Charles. The junior college All-American lived up to the hype with 115 yards rushing against Ohio to become the seventh Marshall back all-time to top 1,000 yards (1,039) in a season and tying C.W. "Claude" Geiger for the tenth-best rushing year in Marshall history. This is the first time Marshall has had a back top 1,000 yards since Doug Chapman, recently of the Minnesota Vikings, rushed for 1,184 yards in 1998. Charles did not score, but his 12 touchdowns rushing is the most since Chapman had 12 in 1999 and is fifth-most in a season for a Marshall back in the last 15 seasons.

Marshall rushed the ball 58 times for 290 net yards, with 26 yards in losses on sacks of Gochneaur. The QB added 14 yards rushing to an effiecent 6-of-12 passing, for 114 yards and one touchdown, in the rain and cold. The td pass went to senior Darius Watts, giving him 47 scores in his career, second only to Troy Edwards' 50 in the NCAA Division I-A record book. Watts, still nursing a sore ankle from four weeks ago, scored from 10 yards out to set the final score at 28-0. A four-year starter, along with left tackle Nate McPeek, Watts had three catches for 52 yards. Those yards pushed Watts over 4,000 yards receiving, first-ever to top that number in MAC history at 4,031 career yards. He finishes his career first at MU and in the MAC in receptions (272) and second in yards receiving (Mike Barber-4,262) and second in touchdowns scored (Randy Moss-53) at Marshall. His 19 touchdowns in a season is fourth-best in the NCAA in a season, tying Desmond Howard of Michigan and Ashley Lelie of Hawaii. Teammate McPeek also got into the record book, with his 51st consecutive start, longest in the nation for a lineman.

Marshall is now a "Bubble Team," waiting to see if it might snag a bowl bid. While some other MAC teams and UConn (9-3) may have more wins than the 8-4 (6-2 and second in the MAC East), Marshall has a track record in bowls:
1) Marshall has appeared in six straight bowls since arriving in I-A in 1997 and has the nation's current best bowl win streak at five in a row.
2) Marshall has traveled well to both Detroit, for the first four Motor City Bowls (with three of the best crowds in that bowls history and an all-time best of 52,911 in 2000) and in Mobile, Alabama, at the GMAC Bowl the past two years (including two straight sell-outs and a bowl best 40,646 in 2002).
3) Marshall has consistantly delivered top ratings to ESPN and ESPN2, including the highest Nielson rating ever by "The Duece" in the never-to-be-forgotten, comeback-to-win, two overtime win over East Carolina, 64-61, in the 2001 GMAC Bowl, the highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history.

Possibilities abound, but the best bet seems to be a trade of spots by Conference USA and the Big 12. TCU has stated it cannot play in the GMAC Bowl due to finals conflicts, so they would like to stay in Fort Worth for that bowl. The Big 12 is short one team if Oklahoma and Texas (who won big Saturday over Texas A&M) both get BCS Bowls, leaving either the Fort Worth or Tangerine Bowl without a Big 12 team, but Orlando officials do not appeared overly excited about a 6-6 Kansas team, so they may try to ship the Jayhawks to Texas and leave a spot open. Marshall's 5,000-6,000 fans at a meaningless game against UCF in Orlando cannot hurt the Herd's chances for a rematch with the North Carolina State Wolfpack. NC State beat Jim Donnan's Herd three times, in 1991-93-95, but barely escaped with wins in the first two games. A neutral field (and officials!) would set up a great match of the ACC and the Conference USA-to be Herd. We'll just have to watch and wait.

Marshall's other seniors, besides Wallace, Watts and McPeek are:
Offensive linemen Joey Stepp, Luke Salmons (who has an invite to the Blue-Gray game in Mobile), and Nate Leslie
Tight End Jason Rader
Receiver Jason Schroeder
Place kicker/Punter Ben Lewis
Defensive linemen Paul Sinclair, Marlon Hicks, Maurice McKinney and Toriano Brown
Linebackers Charlie Tynes and Gladstone Coke So long to a great group of players, who won two MAC championships, three bowls (to date) and had a record of 38-13 overall in four years (a 75 percent winning percentage).

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