6) Marshall-27 Western Carolina-24 3OT November 2, 1991: It was the first Homecoming game in the history of new Marshall University Stadium in November of 1991 and the opponent was the Catamounts of Western Carolina. WCU, MU and Chattanooga had entered the Southern Conference in 1977, but it had taken Marshall five years to win its first game, 10 years to make the I-AA playoffs and 11 years to win the SC in 1988. Through 1986, MU was 0-8-2 against Western, but had won four shootouts in a row since 1987 by an average score of 44-24.
On this day, however, points were hard to come by. The 2-6 Cats held the 4-3 Herd scoreless throughout the first half, but could not score either in a 0-0 halftime. Glenn Pedro got MU on the board just 42 seconds into the third quarter, but WCU tied the game when Kevin Thigpen plunged in to make it 7-7 midway through the third. Dewey Klein's 19-yard field goal gave the Herd a 10-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but with 6:11 to play Western hit its own field goal and the clock would show all zero's and a 10-10 tie.
I-AA rules allowed teams in conference play to go to overtime as many times as needed, but no one in the crowd of 20,466 had any idea what was coming. Marshall won the flip and deferred, but Thigpen scored his second touchdown and Western led 17-10 in the first overtime. On the Herd's possesion, it was fourth and nine at the nine-yard line and WCU looked like they might win the game. Freshman QB Todd Donnan, starting his second game in relief of Michael Payton - who like many on the team got food poisoning two weeks before at N.C. State, scrambled and fired a bullet to Ricardo Clark, who made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 17-17.
Now it was MU's turn to go first, and Pedro scored his second touchdown from 12-yards out to give the Herd a 24-17 lead. Back came WCU who also faced a do-or-die with fouth and goal at the Herd 10. QB Derrick Harris found Thigpen over the middle and he raced in for his third TD and the game was tied again at 24-24. Nearly all the fans had moved to the North end of the stadium where the overtime was taking place in front of the still-being constructed facility building. Western went back on offense to start the third OT and got the ball down to the 16-yard line for a fourth-and-one. Coach Steve Hodgin of Western decided Thigpen had one more yards in him instead of kicking for the points, but the Herd defense had a different idea. MU stuffed the Cats' back, turning the ball back to the offense. After three safe running plays, MU coach Jim Donnan sent Klein in for what looked like a routine 34-yard field goal. Klein hooked the ball, it knuckled right and just barely bounced off the right upright and through to give Marshall a 27-24 Homecoming win to not be forgotten in the longest overtime in MU history.
Marshall-34 Western Michigan-30 December 3, 1999:The Herd had started the year with a last-second win at Clemson but had won rather easily in the next 10 games to advance to the MAC championship for the third consecutive year at Marshall Stadium. The opponent would be the Broncos of Western Michigan, who Marshall had handled 31-17 in Kalamazoo back on November 13, holding QB Tim Lester under 200 yards passing and RB Robert Sanford to just 49 yards on the ground. Since a final win over Ohio on November 26th, it had been a busy off-season for Herd QB Chad Pennington as he headed to both the Heisman Trophy ceremony (finishing fifth) then to the ESPN Awards Show in Orlando, where he took home the Draddy Student-Athlete of the Year and was up for a number of other awards thanks to leading MU to an 11-0 season.
WMU coach Gary Darnell and MU's Bob Pruett were very good friends, but Darnell had spent the last three weeks preparing for another shot at the Herd. The Broncos looked like the home team in this title bout in Huntington, as they scored 10 points in the first quarter and 10 in the second quarter, on a TD pass by Lester and a rushing score by Sanford, to stun the green-clad crowd with a 20-0 halftime lead. The Broncos then scored first in the third, finishing a seven-minute drive to start the half with Brad Selent's third field goal of the night to go up 23-0. With only a quarter and one-half to play, many Herd fans thought the perfect season was just about gone.
Except, no one told Pennington. Two minutes after the Broncos took the 23-0 lead, the Herd QB hooked up with Nate Poole on a 38-yard touchdown to get MU on the board at 23-7. Doug Chapman, who would be held to just 75 yards rushing, gathered 24 of them on one run and with 5:56 to play in the third, Marshall was back in the game at 23-14. Just a minute and one-half later, Pennington found speedster James Williams for a 16-yard touchdown and suddenly the crowd and the Herd was alive at 23-21 to end the third quarter. The defense really stepped it up as well, with Rogers Beckett recording 14 tackles in the game, Danny Derricott 11 and Doug Hodges, Andre O'Neal and Paul Toviessi had 10 each, while Maurice Hines and John Grace each picked off Lester and Giradie Mercer had four tackles for loss and two sacks of the WMU QB.
Chapman scored for the second time in the game to give the Herd its first lead with 12:36 left in the fourth quarter at 28-23. The Herd had scored 28 unanswered points in just 18 offensive snaps. Back came the Broncos, led by Lester (27-of-41, 282 yards, two touchdowns) who matched Pennington (20-of-31, 284 yards, three TDs) almost all night. With 7:20 to play, he found his tight end Jake Moreland to give the Broncos a 30-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Herd offense responded one more time, as they drove 76-yards, keyed by a valiant 33-yard scramble by Pennington for a first down.
With just seven second left in the game, Marshall was down to the Broncos one-yard line with a third-and-goal call. A field goal would send the game to overtime, but could the Herd risk a run and getting a timeout? Pennington lined up the team, rolled right on the snap and threw to the end zone to a wide-open Eric Pinkerton. A linebacker most of his career, Pinkerton had been made a blocker for Chapman and Pennington and was not covered as he slipped out of the backfield and into the end zone for the only catch and score of his career. Pinkerton would put up record numbers on the diamond for the Herd baseball team, but his one touchdown catch will always be remembered as the play that won the MAC title in '99, 34-30, and sent the Herd to a 13-0 season and No. 10-ranking in the nation.
4) Marshall-34 at Louisville-31 October 10, 1987:George Chaump became MU's new coach in 1986 and led the Herd to a 6-4-1 record, just missing the I-AA playoffs. 1987 looked to be a year with promise, with a number of returning starters on both sides of the ball. Marshall opened the season with a 29-0 white-wash of Morehead State, but actually was the team upset by Division I-A Ohio on a hot day in Athens, 23-15, for the Bobcats only win of the year. The Herd would lose a heartbreaker at EKU next, 37-34, when the Colonels scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. MU rebounding with a 38-13 win over Youngstown State, but once again lost at Furman, 42-36, as the Paladins rallied for 13 points in the final seven minutes to claim its 12 win in 12 meetings with the Herd, who turned the ball three times to five for the winning FU team.
Next up was a trip to Louisville to play Howard Schnellenberger's Cardinals. UL was on a "15-year plan," according to Schnellenberger, who had come to Huntington in the summer to invite Herd fans to visit the Derby City, but his team was 5-17 in his first two seasons. Despite the fact UL had won the last two meetings with the Herd in 1981 and 1977 by a combined 92-0, it looked like the Herd was on its game at the Fairgrounds as Ron Darby gave the Herd a 7-0 lead early. That stretched to a 28-10 halftime lead with another Darby touchdown and Tony Petersen touchdown passes to Mike Barber and Jerry Harris.
Back came the Cards, who scored 21 points in the third and fourth quarters to come back to go up 31-28 behind QB Jay Gruden's two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown by Knighton to lead with 5:28 left in the game. With 1:51 left, Louisville's Ronnie Bell lined up for a 41-yard field goal that would have put the Cards up six, but missed and the Herd had one more chance. With 1:51 to play, the Herd began a classic 76-yard drive down the field but the clock was running down and the Herd was out of timeouts when Petersen was sacked hard behind the line.
The Herd offense hurried to the line and as Chaump's staff screamed to snap the ball, Peterson calmly took the snap from center Jim Torres with just two seconds to play. Petersen launched the ball towards the end zone and with two defenders on him, Keith Baxter out-jumped the Cardinals and came down with a play for the ages to give the upstart Herd a 34-31 upset win. The game was one of the great wins in MU history, plus it evened the record at 3-3. From there, Marshall would lose only once, to Appalachian State in Boone, then get revenge by returning to North Carolina to beat the Mountaineers and advance to the I-AA National Championship that season.
3) Marshall-31 Youngstown State-28 December 19, 1992: It was no surprise the Penquins and the Herd would meet in Huntington in 1992 for the I-AA National Championship at Marshall Stadium. The two teams had met in 1991 for the title in Statesboro, Ga., with YSU winning 25-17. But the game was in the Herd's stadium and the 11-3 MU team was ready to make amends for last year after shutting out EKU 44-0, beating MTSU 35-21 and plucking Delaware 28-7 to get back to the game.
A 0-0 score at the end of the first quarter gave way to the Herd scoring two touchdowns in a minute and one-half in the second. Mike Bartrum caught a touchdown from Michael Payton, then Orlando Hatchett, making a return from a concussion against Middle Tennessee, scored just 91 second later for a 14-0 halftime lead, thanks to the foot of Willie Merrick's extra-points. Willie was starting for the Herd in the title game because his younger brother, David - the Herd's regular kicker - was not dressed after missing Thursday's practice. Willie, one of the leaders of the MU Soccer team, had one extra-point in game one against Morehead State, but had not kicked in a game since until the championship.
Glenn Pedro scored to give the Herd a 21-0 lead just five minutes into the third quarter, and about four minutes later Hatchett's touchdown catch from Payton had the fans planning celebration's with a 28-0 lead in the third. Youngstown State finally got on the board on a touchdown pass with just under four minutes left in the quarter, but at 28-7 o one seemed too concerned that the Herd would miss the No. 3 tackler, linebacker William King, and the No. 10 tackler, defensive back George Thomas, lost to injury...no one except bruising YSU back Tamron Smith. He punched the Penguins' second score in just before the end of the third and the score was still a comfortable 28-14.
It began to get uncomfortable as Smith continued his assault on the Herd defense, rushing for a second score for him and third for YSU to cut the Herd lead to 28-21. Smith hit in again with 3:28 to play and suddenly it was a tie game at 28-28. Could the title that seemed so sure in 1991 and 1987 be slipping away from the Herd again. A sellout crowd of 31,304 and a national audience watching on CBS came to its feet as the Herd offense came on the field at the 23-yard line and about three minutes to play.
Payton led the team on a 14-play, 76-yard drive down the turf of the Astroturfed-field, telling the team in the huddle to start the drive, "We will not lose this game." He would hit seven-of-nine in the drive, with Troy Brown catching four of those for 36 yards. Hatchett added 13 rushing yards and Payton ran for eight more, then Hatchett added 19 more and Glenn Pedro ran the ball to the middle of the field with five more yards and 10 seconds to play. Merrick, who was only talking to his brother while warming up on the sidelines, calmly trotted out for a 29-yard field goal attempt. Pete Woods snap was perfect to holder Andy Bowen and Merrick made the only field goal of his career to give the Herd a 31-28 lead. After squibbing the ball on the kickoff, Brown knocked down a final YSU pass as a seventh defensive back for the Herd and MU was the I-AA National Champion with a school-record 12th win on the season.
2) Marshall-64 East Carolina-61 December 19, 2001: Exactly nine years after winning the 1992 title, the Herd was in Mobile, Alabama for the GMAC Bowl against Conference USA's Pirates of ECU. The Herd, 10-2 on the year, was coming off a disappointing loss in the MAC title game at Toledo, but still was impressive enough for the folks in Alabama to extend an invitation. It might have been the Toledo loss, or just a flat start, but whaterver it was it was not pretty in the first half. East Carolina surged to a 21-0 first quarter lead, picking off Byron Leftwich for a 12-yard interception return, then recovering a Leftwich fumble for a 43-yard score. It was 24-0 before Leftwich put the Herd on the board with a 35-yard touchdown to Darius Watts, but the Pirates added tow more touchdowns, including a second from ECU QB David Garrard, to lead at the half 38-8.
Many fans were not back from the concession stands in Mobile, or their fridge back in Huntington watching on ESPN, Before Ralph Street, a Herd defensive end, picked off a Garrard pass and returned it 25-yards to cut the lead to 38-15. The defense stopped ECU cold and just 1:46 later, Leftwich ran in from nine yards out for a 38-22 game and Herd fans were getting back into the game. A Kevin Miller field goal would be the Pirates only points in the third quarter, a Terrance Tarpley would turn another interception into six at the 5:21 mark and Butchie Wallace scored from 15-yards out to cut the lead to 41-36 with just a minute left in the third quarter. Many local fans had headed home at half on a cold night, but the teams were just warming up.
Miller his another field goal five minutes into the fourth for a 44-36 ECU lead, but back came the Herd with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Leftwich to Denero Marriott to pull the Herd within two, 44-42. Back came the Pirate, as Leonard Henry broke off a a 55-yard score for his second TD of the game and the Pirates were up 51-42 with five minutes left...in regulation. Leftwich drove the Herd back up the field, but MU had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Curtis Head to cut the lead to 51-45. The Herd tried the on-sides kick, but East Carolina recovered. Marshall held, but used all its timeouts, and ECU punted the ball into the end zone. 80 yards away, just 50 seconds left and no timeouts...no problem.
Leftwich hit Marriott for 20 yards; hit Curtis Jones for 27 yards; then Marriott for another 23. The Herd tied the game at 51-51 when Watts came down in the back corner of the end zone with a touchdown catch with seven seconds left. Head trotted on for a Willie Merrick moment, but missed the extra-point wide right - his seventh miss of the year. A 102 point game would now go into overtime. The Herd took six plays to go 25 yards, with Wallace scoring his second TD to give MU a 58-51 lead on Head's kick, which was true. Henry went 25 yards on one play and just as quick as that, the teams would head to double overtime tied at 58.
East Carolina found the going just a little rougher on its second try, settling for another Miller field goal, his fourth of the night, to take a 61-58 lead. On first down in period six, Leftwich hit Marriott for 21-yards to move the ball to the four. Two running plays, however, lost yards and the Herd faced third and eight. Leftwich found Josh Davis slashing across the end zone and fired his fifth touchdown pass of the night to give Marshall the unbelievable 64-61 win in the highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history. Leftwich set a MU record with 576 yards passing, hitting an amazing 41-of-70 passes. Marriott set a MU record with 15 catches, piling up 234 yards, while Davis had 8-for-87 and Watts 7-for-133 yards. Leonard Henry of ECU had three touchdowns and 195 of the Pirates 331 yards rushing. The Herd overcame four turnovers and a 30-point deficeit to win one for the ages, and Leftwich and Garrard would end up as teammates with the Jacksonville Jaguars just two years later.
)1 Marshall-15 Xavier-13 September 25, 1971: It was just 10 months since Marshall had lost its football team in a crash on November 14, 1970, while returning from a loss at East Carolina. 75 persons, including five coaches, over 35 players and many MU and Huntington leaders were lost in the worst air disaster in American Sports history. Jack Lengyel was hired on St. Patrick's Day of 1971 to take over a program with three returning lettermen, a bunch of red-shirt freshman and an open call for players that brought Lengyel and his staff basketball players from the Thundering Herd men's program, former vets from Vietnam and guys who had never played football.
The Herd opened the season at Morehead State, and most of the 3,000 Marshall fans who traveled 60 miles down I-64 to see the game where delighted that a team actually took the field and that they actually scored in a 29-6 loss to the Eagles at Jayne Stadium. The Herd would return home to battle the Musketeers of Xavier in the emotional home opener.
President Richard Nixon sent a letter to the team, which Lengyel copied and gave to each player and coach. W.Va. Governor Arch Moore was among the nearly 14,000 Marshall fans who roared as the Green and White "Young" Thundering Herd took the field for the game. MU had been granted an exemption by the NCAA to use true freshmen and had many of those inexperienced players playing on offense, defense and special teams. Walk-on kicker Blake Smith had never played football, but impressed the Herd coaching staff with his leg during tryout the week of the XU game, if not his waist-length hair. One haircut later, and Smith was the Herd's specialist.
The Herd, led by sophomore quarterback Reggie Oliver, drove down the field early on and were in field goal range on fourth down. Lengyel did not hesitate, sending in Smith for a 31-yard attempt. The walk-on drilled the kick and the crowd roared even louder as the Herd took an unexpected 3-0 lead. The crowd turned the volumn up even more when Marshall took that lead to the locker room at half. Lengyel told his team, "You've got it right here, right here in the palm of your hand, if you will go all out for 30 more minutes." Marco went all out at halftime to try and eat some of that green "grass" on MU's one-year old Astroturf, as the Herd's one-year old live mascot got out of his cage at Fairfield Stadium and had to be recaptured before the second half could start.
Xavier settled down at half and took a 6-3 lead midway through the third quarter. Oliver scored on a sneak to start the fourth period, however, and MU was back up 9-6 with about 12 minutes to play. At the 5:18 mark, the boys with XU on their helmets returned a Bob Eshbaugh punt 47-yards and appeared to let the air of the crowd by reclaiming a 13-9 lead on the young Herd team. An exchange of punts by both teams would leave the Herd with 1:18 to play and a first and ten at the MU 48-yard line.
Oliver missed on three straight passes before finding Jerry Arrasmith for a do-or-die first down on an 11-yard gain. Oliver then found Kelly Sherwood for another 11 yards and a first down at the Xavier 26-yard line after a four-yard run. Another six yards on the ground moved MU to the 18-yard line and, with 20 seconds left, Oliver and Arrasmith hooked up for five more yards and a first down at the 13-yard line. With no timeouts, however, the clock started as soon as the chain was set so Oliver looked to coach Red Dawson on the sideline for what might be the final play of the game with about 10 seconds left.
Dawson, an All-American at Florida State, had come to Marshall as an assistant in 1968 and had driven back to Huntington on a recruiting trip the night of the crash that killed five of his fellow coaches. Although he had wanted the head coaching job, Dawson joined Lengyel for the 1971 season on the sidelines and now signaled in 213 bootleg screen, where Oliver faked the dive, rolled right and threw back to a back on the left. The play had worked already in the game, so Oliver hurried the Herd to the line and got the snap off with one second to play. He faked the dive to the fullback John Johnsonbaugh, rolled right and the Xavier defense chased him looking for the option to run or pass on the West side of the field.
Terry Gardner, a freshman from West Portsmouth, Ohio, calmly checked the end at the line, then floated into the left flat. Oliver threw his way and prayed, later saying Gardner did not have the best hands on the team. Only one defensive back stood between Gardner and the end zone that ran along Columbia Avenue in the Fairfield East district of town where Fairfield Stadium was built in 1928, but sophomore tackle Jack Crabtree also peeled off and crushed the defender and Gardner cruised into the end zone and Herd history. The Young Thundering Herd had won the first home game after the worst crash in American sport history on a last-second play, 15-13. The rush of fans and players on the field was joy unbounded, but even an hour after everyone on the team, including the team chaplin, were thrown in the showers in the one-year old dressing rooms of the Herd, the fans were still in the stands...crying, cheering, staring, praying, not quite sure if they had actually seen what had just happened. It was the first last second win recorded in NCAA history and may be not only the greatest finish in Marshall history, but of all time.