"We sort of like Mobile," quipped Marshall coach Bob Pruett of the Herd's second consecutive GMAC Bowl crown. "We didn't turn the ball over this year, and our defense has improved dramatically."
Blame it on the defense. Yes, Marshall's defense. Heretofore unheralded in the 2002 season, the Marshall defense shut down Louisville unlike any other team that the Herd has faced in 2002.
"We gave (UofL QB Dave) Ragone some different looks tonight," said Marshall defensive back Yancey Satterwhite, named the game's Defensive MVP. "We mixed the man and zone in, and came after him on third down."
Marshall's Jamus Martin floored Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone, knocking the ball loose.
But let's not forget about the offense, either.
Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich -still hobbled by an injured left shin- used receivers Denero Marriott (named the Offensive MVP of the game) and Demetrius Doss as the weapons of choice against Louisville. Marriott hauled in 9 catches for 137 yards and two TDs, while Doss caught only three passes, two for TDs. Leftwich finished the night completing 22-of-44 passes for 249 yards, 4 TDs and only one interception in the final game of his storied Marshall career.
"This is as 'off' as we've been, as an offense," said Leftwich to a packed post-game press conference. "But we did enough to win the football game, and that's what it's all about."
Oddly enough, it was the Marshall defense that effectively shut down the Cardinals. U of L quarterback Dave Ragone struggled during the first half trying to get the Cards on track. Meanwhile, Leftwich guided the Herd up and down the field in typical fashion.
The Herd took the early lead and never really looked back after Marriott's 9-yard TD catch from Leftwich at the 4:50 mark of the first quarter. Marshall extended the lead to 17-0 courtesy of Curtis Head's 23-yard field goal and Demetrius Doss's 8-yard TD catch with 9:45 left in the second quarter. U of L finally got on the scoreboard with 5:15 left in the first half when running back T.J. Smith shot in from two yards out for the score.
Denero Marriott hauled in 9 passes for 137 yards and 2 TDs against Louisville on Wednesday night.
With a 17-7 lead at the half, MU quarterback Byron Leftwich left the game with about 2 minutes remaining before the half to have his injured examined by team doctors. Leftwich picked up right where he left off in the third quarter.
"You don't want to miss any part of your last game," Leftwich said. "There was no way I was going to come out and not play in that second half."
In the second half, Marshall rattled off 21 unanswered points to effectively dispatch the Cards for good. Leftwich found Doss for the second time with 8:34 left in the third quarter, from 12 yards out. With 11:35 left in the fourth quarter, Marriott caught his second TD pass from 26 yards away. Add in Franklin Wallace's 15-yard TD run with 8:34 left in the game, mix in a Card-stopping defensive effort, and voila', game over. Marshall had amassed a 38-7 lead by the time the fourth quarter was halfway finished.
"Our kids came out and played in all phases of the game," Pruett summed up.
The Marshall defense held solid ground against the U of L offense all night long, but the capper came in the fourth quarter. With 10:00 remaining and Ragone facing first-and-15, Marshall DB Yancey Satterwhite picked off an errant Ragone pass and ran it back to the U of L 32 yard line.
Game, set, match.
Marshall coach Bob Pruett holds up his second GMAC Bowl Champs trophy in as many years after beating Louisville 38-15.
"I just love playing in big games," Denero Marriott said. "That's what it's all about."
Louisville added one last score with only :13 remaining in the game, but it was too little and way too late. U of L's Ragone re-entered the game to lob an 11-yard TD to Tiger Jones to seal the final score.
"I think we played pretty dominant on both sides of the ball," said Leftwich. "We had a team playing with great effort and great enthusiasm."
Marshall now is the only team in college football currently sitting on a five-game bowl winning streak, and finished the 2002 season with a 11-2 record. Louisville dropped to 7-6 overall with the loss to Marshall.