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Marshall wins MAC thanks to Leftwich heroics

12/7/2002

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.