If you had predicted the final outcome based on the first half, you probably would have chosen ECU to win the game. And, you'd have been right in that assumption. ECU jumped out early on Marshall, 21-0, taking advantage of sloppy play and turnovers by Marshall's offense. In fact, ECU scored the first 14 points in an earth-shattering 3:21 after the opening kickoff.
"In a game like this, against a team like East Carolina, you can't do that," Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich said of the first quarter disaster.
Marshall turned the ball over four times in the first half, and each turnover equated to an ECU score. The Pirates' Ty Hunt picked off Marshall QB Byron Leftwich on Marshall's opening possession and returned the ball 12 yards for the first score. On the very next possession, Leftwich bobbled a high snap, and ECU's Jerome Steward picked up the ball and ran in for the TD.
Before they knew what hit them, Marshall was down and dazed early in the bout. The Herd's only score in the first half came when Leftwich hit Darius Watts from 35 yards out at the 6:35 mark of the second quarter. Trod Buggs added the two-point conversion. ECU, meanwhile, went on to score two more TDs in the first half, one on Leonard Henry's run with 6:00 left and on David Garrard's 6-yard run just 1:13 later.
ECU took a commanding 38-8 lead at the half. You could hear the channels being changed on TV sets all across America, if you tried. However, those who had turned the game off and written Marshall off were in for quite a surprise in the second half.
"I talked to them about not quitting," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said of his halftime speech that apparently worked wonders on his team. "The only way we could turn the game around was on defense. If we scored every time (on offense), it wouldn't be enough if we didn't turn it around on defense."
The Marshall defense got in on the action in the second half. Marshall linebacker Ralph Street picked off David Garrard's pass with 14:37 left in the third, and ran the ball in 25 yards for the score, untouched. This would ignite a firestorm of scoring that would seemingly never end.
MU receiver Darius Watts goes high over ECU defender Kelly Hardy for the game-tying touchdown with only 7 seconds remaining.
Leftwich added another 7 on a keeper. ECU battled back with Kevin Miller's 22-yard field goal. Marshall benefitted again on defense when Terence Tarpley broke early on Garrard's pass and picked the ball off clean. Tarpley ran into the endzone untouched. Score at this point? 41-29 ECU.
The Herd's Franklin Wallace ran in a 15-yard touchdown run with just 1:00 left in the third quarter, ending Marshall's 28-3 run in that 15-minute span. With ECU now holding the slimmest of leads at 41-36, it appeared that Marshall had sprung back to life. That thought would be continued in the fourth quarter. ECU's Kevin Miller added another field goal (32 yards), and Marshall answered back with Denero Marriott's 30-yard TD pass from Leftwich at the 6:15 mark. Marshall needed two points to tie (44-42), but missed on the conversion. East Carolina jumped on the chance that missed two-pointer gave them, and Leonard Henry ran straight up the field for a 55-yard touchdown with 5:00 left.
Down 51-42, Marshall wisely used a timeout to force ECU into give the ball back to Marshall with less than three minutes remaining. In a span of 1:46, Leftwich would guide his Marshall offense on two separate possessions, ending with a field goal (27 yards) by Curtis Head, and the game-tying touchdown, a leaping grab by Darius Watts in the back right corner of the end zone. Marshall had tied the score back up at 51-apiece, needing only the extra point to win. Marshall kicker Curtis Head rushed the point-after, and missed it wide.
Marshall drew first blood in overtime, as Franklin Wallace leaped over the ECU defensive line from two yards out for the score. ECU answered when Leonard Henry continued to run over the Marshall secondary, scoring from 25 yards out. The Pirates had the ball first on the next set of overtime possessions, and produced a Kevin Miller 37-yard field goal to take the lead at 61-58. Marshall now had to put up or shut up. On the fourth play of the series, Leftwich put up a bullet that found a streaking Josh Davis in the endzone for the 8-yard touchdown and the seemingly impossible Marshall win, 64-61.
"I've never been on a team that scored 64 points," added Marshall coach Bob Pruett. Pruett coyly added, "And given up 61 at the same time," to the laughter of the media in attendance at the post-game press conference.
Marshall's Byron Leftwich was named the game's MVP, and one look at his numbers tells why: Leftwich completed 41-of-70 passes for a mind-boggling 576 yards in the comeback win. Tonight was the third time in the last four years that marshall has defeated a Conference-USA team in a bowl game. Marshall finishes the season with an 11-2 record, while ECU fell to an even 6-6 with the loss.
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