Judging by the first quarter performance of the Thundering Herd, the game appeared to be a runaway early on. Marshall's Byron Leftwich went nuts on the Rockets in the first quarter, throwing two TD passes to WR Denero Marriott and watching Franklin Wallace run another in, as the Herd jumped out to an explosive 20-0 lead with 6:31 left in that first quarter.
Everything was going Marshall's way. Leftwich hit Marriott for MU's first score on a 14-yard slant route with 11:03 remaining. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball hit a Toledo player and was recovered by Marshall on the UT 49 yard line. Just five plays later, Leftwich again found Marriott streaking through the endzone on another slant route for the score. Curtis Head missed the extra point, and the Herd had a quick 13-0 lead.
Toledo's three-and-out put the ball back in Marshall's hands, and this time Leftwich needed all of one play and nine seconds to get the job done. Handing off to running back Franklin Wallace, Wallace broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and ran behind the block of pulling guard Steve Content for the 62-yard touchdown run. In a little under 14 minutes of play, Marshall had scored three times on three possessions, and appeared to have the game under control. Lefwich had thrown for an uncanny 188 yards by the end of the first quarter.
Then, Chester woke up.
Marshall kicker Curtis Head nailed a 32-yard field goal to begin the quarter, putting the Herd up 23-0. Following Toledo's lead, Marshall went three-and-out on the next possession of the second quarter, and that's when the momentum switched over to the Rockets' favor. UT quarterback Tavares Bolden dropped a 26-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 left in the first half on the Marshall defense, and the Rockets got on the board, down 23-7.
"They started making plays, and we stopped," Leftwich said after the game.
Byron was right.
Marshall wide receiver Darius Watts (40) celebrates as teammate wide receiver Denero Marriott (13) points towards Toldeo fans in front of Toledo cornerback Jehu Anderson (24) after Marriott caught his second touchdown pass of the game in the first quarter on Friday, Nov. 30, 2001 at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio during the Mid-American Conference championship game. (AP Photo/Paul Warner)
Marshall kick returner Curtis Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Toledo recovered on the Marshall 27-yard line. Seven plays later, UT kicker Todd France booted a 23-yard field goal through the uprights, cutting the MU lead to 23-10.
The Herd again went three-and-out, and Toledo got the ball with less than a minute remaining. Marshall's Josh Cordell dropped UT running back Chester Taylor for a loss on first down, and Toledo used another running play to run out the clock. Marshall's 23-10 lead at the half was tenuous at best, despite the Herd racking up 287 yards of offense.
"We let them back in the game in the second quarter," said Marshall coach Bob Pruett. You had two good offensive football teams out there. Not a lot of defense out there."
At halftime, Toledo coach Tom Amstutz made a simple prediction to ESPN's Holly Rowe on the sidelines at the Glass Bowl: "We'll get Chester the ball in this half," was Amstutz's prediction. It would prove to be a good one in the second half.
In the second half, it was Toledo that came out on fire.
Chester Taylor amassed 150 yards rushing in the third quarter, capped with his spectacular touchdown run at the 11:19 mark. Taylor ran into a wall at the line of scrimmage, only to bounce out and around the Marshall defense en route to the endzone. Marshall's lead was now only six, at 23-17.
But the Herd wasn't dead yet. Byron Leftwich engineered yet another one-play drive for the Herd, this one a 68-yard passing score to Denero Marriott (his third TD of the night), taking only 9 seconds off the clock. Marshall went comfortably back out in front, 29-17, after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
UT had an answer, and his name was Chester Taylor. The all-everything running back hauled in a 38-yard pass on the next possession, and set up a Bolden-to-McCray handoff that went five yards into the endzone. Marshall 29, UT 24.
"We just didn't make the plays when we had to," Leftwich added afterwards.
UT later marched downfield on a six-play drive that appeared to be stalled at the Marshall 13 yard line. On fourth-and-one, Toledo came out and lined up for another Todd France field goal attempt. However, holder Tavares Bolden took the snap, handed off to France, and the kicker ran untouched into the endzone for a Toledo score. Toledo now lead the game for the first time all night, 30-29. France bounced off the goalpost upright in his excitement after running in the fake field goal. Bolden's two-point conversion run upped the UT lead to 32-29.
France added a 28-yard field goal with 1:09 remaining to put the Rockets even further up, 35-29.
In the final quarter, Leftwich again came out firing. He found Marriott in the back right corner of the endzone for the 18-yard TD pass with 11:56 left, to pull Marshall back in the lead, 36-35, after Curtis Head's extra point.
At this point, Marshall appeared to regain momentum. Toledo's next possession went three-and-out when Josh Cordell sacked Tavares Bolden. UT's Todd France booted the punt, and Marshall returner Curtis Jones bobbled the punt, fumbled, and Toledo recovered on the MU 48 yard line. This would turn out to be the play that broke the Herd's back.
Other than one 18-yard pass play, it was all Chester Taylor on the ensuing possession. Taylor ran untouched up the middle from the 8-yard line for the go-ahead score with 6:35 remaining, icing the outcome and the final score at 41-36.
"You have to give them guys credit," a dejected Leftwich summed up. "They just did a great job. They played hard and found a way to win the game."
Toledo is now only the second team to ever win the MAC Championship in its short history. Marshall's four consecutive win streak came to an end in the Glass Bowl.
With the loss, Marshall's 10-game win streak also came to an end, and the Herd now stands with a 10-2 record as they prepare to face Conference-USA opponent East Carolina University in the GMAC Bowl on December 19 in Mobile, Alabama. Toledo improves to 9-2 overall, and moves on to face a to-be-named C-USA opponent in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Michigan.
Look for further in-depth coverage of the MAC Championship game in the next print issue of Herd Insider, to be published next Tuesday. Also, look for post-game quotes from the players and exclusive game photos on our website, www.GoHerd.com, to be posted on Saturday night.