2:30 PM ET, December 7, 2002
Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A month's worth of limping on a sore shin didn't deter Byron Leftwich, and neither did getting flattened by Toledo's David Gardner.
Leftwich got up from the third-quarter hit to throw two late touchdowns, including a 40-yarder to Darius Watts with 49 seconds left, as Marshall beat the Rockets 49-45 Saturday in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Marshall (10-2) has won five MAC titles since it rejoined the league six seasons ago.
The Thundering Herd avoided losing at home for just the second time since Bob Pruett became coach in 1996. Marshall atoned for a loss at Toledo in last year's championship game, in which the Rockets overcame a 23-0 deficit to win 41-36.
"Last year, after we lost we all had a sick feeling,'' Leftwich said. "This year, we couldn't let them come in here and make us feel like that again.''
Leftwich completed 32 of 42 passes for 404 yards and four TDs to overshadow the four rushing touchdowns by Toledo redshirt freshman Trinity Dawson, who finished with a career-high 130 yards.
Leftwich hurt his left shin on Nov. 2. On Saturday, he showed his toughness as Toledo made good on its promise to blitz him often.
Gardner thought his hit, which came after an interception by Brandon Hefflin, was legal. But it came just after the whistle, prompting a personal-foul penalty and setting off a fight. Marshall lineman Steve Peretta went after Gardner, and Toledo lineman Lantz Jeudy retaliated against Peretta.
Several Toledo players rushed onto the field, and players from both teams exchanged shoves before order was restored. Peretta and Jeudy were ejected.
"He hit me high, so honestly, it wasn't dirty,'' Leftwich said. "It was unfortunate that the fight may have taken something away from the game.''
Gardner compared his hit to that of Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp on Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton a few weeks ago. The hit ended Clifton's season.
"Once the ball is intercepted, anybody is fair game,'' he said. "If he (Hefflin) breaks loose, Byron Leftwich is the last one there to make the tackle.''
Leftwich, who has 4,019 passing yards this season, became the conference's all-time leading passer Saturday with 11,654, surpassing the 11,299 yards set by Tim Lester from 1996-99.
Both teams had secured bowl bids before Saturday. Marshall will head to the GMAC Bowl for the second straight year on Dec. 18 in Mobile, Ala., while Toledo will make a return trip to the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 26 in Detroit.
Just like last year, Toledo (9-4) fell far behind, trailing 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-10 late in the second.
Again, the Rockets came back.
Toledo overcame a 17-point deficit behind quarterback Brian Jones and Dawson, who had second-half TD runs of 2, 10 and 2 yards to go with a 37-yarder in the second quarter.
"It was just a matter of getting our motor running with our offense,'' Jones said.''
The lead changed six times in the second half.
Dawson's 19-yard run set up Jones' 1-yard plunge with 3:35 left in the game, but Jason Robbins missed the extra point wide right, and Toledo led 45-42.
Marshall got the ball back at its 27 with 3:24 left. Toledo missed a chance to ice the win when Keon Jackson dropped a possible interception.
A few plays later, Patrick Body was called for pass interference with 54 seconds left, giving Marshall a first down at the Rockets 40. On the next play, Leftwich hit Watts at the 10 and he scored untouched.
"It was a great pass. On time. A tight spiral,'' said Toledo coach Tom Amstutz. "Byron Leftwich is a real special quarterback.''
With no timeouts, Toledo drove to the Marshall 39, but Jones' pass was knocked down in the end zone as time ran out.
Jones finished with 221 yards passing to become Toledo's single-season passing leader with 3,115 yards, breaking the mark of 2,955 set by Chris Wallace in 1997.