For Marshall, it was most certainly a tale of two halves. The first half was arguably The Herd's best of the 2005 season, and the second half was just as arguably their worst. But in the long and short of it, Ahmad Bradshaw's stellar 187 yard rushing performance was all for nought. ECU rang up a stunning 464 yards –split almost evenly between their rushing (273 yards) and passing (219 yards)– to rattle off 17 points in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
The second half breakdown caught Marshall coach Mark Snyder's attention.
"I think they [ECU] had their way with our defense tonight," Snyder said after the game. "When you have a poor plan and it's executed poorly, this is what you get, these kinds of stats and that kind of score."
Ahmad Bradshaw began the Marshall scoring binge early in the first quarter with this 14-yard TD run with 11:16 left.
Everything went Marshall's way in the first half. The Herd shot out to a quick 13-0 lead on scores by Bradshaw (14 yard run) and Shawn Lauzon (20 yard pass) in the first 11 minutes of the game. Bradshaw amassed 143 of his 187 yards in that first half, and it appeared Marshall could run at will against the Pirates.
"They told me they were going to try and get me to 200 yards," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw's second TD of the night came with 2:05 left in the half on a 8-yard run, and extended the MU lead to 20-10. However, East Carolina fought back by halftime, closing the Marshall lead to 20-17 courtesy of Chris Johnson's 16-yard scoring run with just :40 left in the half, Johnson's second score of the quarter. In fact, Johnson's first score evoked some controversy when it appeard Johnson was downed before dangling the ball over the goal line. CUSA officials declined to review the play, baffling those in the stands.
C.J. Spillman clearly stopped ECU back Chris Johnson on this controversial play that was ruled a touchdown in the second quarter.
Johnson would finish with 106 yards and the two scores.
"They ran the ball effectively the whole game," MU coach Snyder continued. "I think they had their way with our defense tonight."
That statement rang true in the second half, when ECU reversed the game momentum to their direction via Johnson's running attack. Marshall kicker Ian O'Connor booted a 32-yard field goal at the 11:40 mark of the third quarter for the only score by either team in that quarter. That put The Herd up by a 23-17 margin.
Adrian Davis recovered this ECU fumble in the first half.
Marshall did attempt a crucial fake punt in the third quarter that began the momentum shift to ECU's favor. Facing fourth-and-27 on the ECU 33 yard line, backup quarterback Derek Devine sneaked onto the field and threw a pass to receiver Hiram Moore on the five yard line. Moore juggled and dropped the pass.
"What do you do right there, with the struggles we've had at kicker? You can't punt it," Snyder added. "They didn't even recognize Derek [Devine] was in there. That's a low percentage play. We were looking for a PI [pass interference]. Whatever we got out of that was a bonus.
What came out of that play was the beginning of ECU's comeback and eventual command of Marshall late in the game.
"They clogged the middle a whole lot," MU back Ahmad Bradshaw said of the second half. "Our plan was to run up the middle, hold our blocks, and break me to the outside."
However, ECU owned the ball for most of the fourth quarter. And the fourth quarter was good for the Pirates.
ECU returner Aundrae Allison is wrapped up by the Marshall special teams unit.
"We felt like we could give the ball to Ahmad all night," Marshall coach Mark Snyder continued. "We felt like that going in, and I still feel like that. Unfortunately, we couldn't stop them and we had to get away from giving Ahmad the ball and we had to start throwing a little bit, and I thought Jimmy threw the ball well."
ECU scored 17 unanswered points in that fourth quarter, the first coming on Dominique Lindsays' 19 yard run on third-and-two with 14:13 left in the game. The Pirates followed that with an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Chris Johnson scoring from two yards out for the 31-23 lead. Kicker Robert Lee added the icing on the cake with a 30-yard field goal, set up by the Pirates' Kasey Ross interception of MU quarterback Jimmy Skinner.
Skinner was then left the unenviable task of having to score 11 points with just 3:17 left. Hiram Moore caught a 8-yard TD pass with :49 left to close the gap, but it was too little too late. ECU claimed the on-sides kick to seal the 34-29 win.
Hiram Moore snagged this 8-yard TD pass from Jimmy Skinner late in the loss to East Carolina.
"There just wasn't enough magic left in there," Snyder summed up. "We didn't get the stop we needed at the end, they kicked the field goal and put themselves in a position to beat us. Unfortunately, the clock ran out on us."
The loss puts Marshall (4-6, 3-4 CUSA)in the unusual scenario of a losing season, The Herd's first in 21 years. At the same time, ECU finds themselves staring at the same identical record as Marshall, but finishing out with a strong effort on Saturday night.
"You saw a team that came in playing for nothing, and they played some pretty inspired ball," Marshall coach Mark Snyder finished by saying.
The hope is that Snyder's Herd shows the same kind of effort when they visit Memphis next Saturday to end the season, as ECU did at The Joan tonight.