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Herd Tramples Pirates in Comeback Stampede

By Denny O'Brien

MOBILE, AL — If Steve Logan were to re-write a classic Charles Dickens novel, he would almost assuredly take a hack at the timeless masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities.

In doing so, though, East Carolina's ten-year head coach would likely change the title — to a A Tale of Two Halves.

East Carolina intercepted MAC player-of-the-year Byron Leftwich twice and forced two fumbles en route to building a 38-8 first-half lead that seemed insurmountable. But just as Marshall (11-2) fumbled and stumbled its way into a 30-point hole, the Pirates would prove the second half Samaritan, doing their part to help the Herd grab a 64-61 double-overtime comeback victory in the GMAC Bowl.

For East Carolina (6-6), which established a trend in the last few games of the regular season for sprinting out of the gates, then fading into oblivion in the second half, the loss was its third straight.

Logan, noting his team's track record of getting off to a fast start before hitting an invisible wall, was as puzzled as anyone with the collapse.

"...We've started out (in a number of games) and put anywhere from 28 to 38 points on the board in the first half," Logan said. "With the exception of one game, we could not close it.

"It's the strangest football team I have ever, ever been around in my life. We tried everything in the world to try to correct that characteristic, but couldn't do it."

Senior quarterback David Garrard, who played his final game in an East Carolina uniform, echoed his coach's bewilderment, acknowledging that Wednesday's game was typical of the Pirates' roller-coaster season.

"When you put 61 points on the board, you don't expect to lose," Garrard said. "It was typical of the Pirates this year.

"We came out, got a big lead, then came out in the second half and threw it away. The two interceptions coming out wasn't good — it definitely hurt us."

The Thundering Herd's second-half stampede was fueled by two Garrard interceptions, both of which were returned for scores.

Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich took over from there, shaking off a shaky start and completing 41 of his 70 attempts for 576 yards and four touchdowns en route to being named the game's most valuable player.

No pass proved bigger, though, than his eight-yard touchdown toss to receiver Josh Davis in the second overtime that seized victory.

"Byron (Leftwich) is an awfully good player," Logan said. "I hope the young man stays in school — it could really help him. He could be a very high round draft pick."

The Marshall receiving tandem of Denero Marriott (15-234-1 TD) and Darius Watts (7-133-2) was the beneficiary of many of Leftwich's pinpoint passes, as the Herd rolled up 649 yards of total offense on a shell-shocked Pirate defense.

East Carolina finished the evening with 492 yards of total offense, 331 of which was on the ground. Senior running back Leonard Henry led the way, piling up 195 yards on 29 carries to go along with three touchdowns.

It was another magnificent performance for the Clinton senior, who ended his career as the second leading rusher in ECU history.

"Those guys in that locker room sold out for me each and every play and each and every practice," said Henry, who was voted offensive player of the game. "My career has been great here at ECU.

"I can't ask for anything more. The coaching staff has given me every opportunity to go out and make a play, as coach Logan always talks about."

Henry's second touchdown of the evening, a 55-yard jolt on third down, boosted the Pirates' a lead to 51-42 with five minutes left to play, which appeared to nail the coffin shut. But the Herd was left with five minutes too many, scoring twice in that span.

"He (Henry) made a big play there at the end that I thought might have put the game a way, when he knocked in that touchdown run," Logan said. "But it wasn't quite enough."

Leftwich would make certain of that.

The strong-armed marksman orchestrated a 15-play, 69 yard drive, leading to a field goal that would shave the Pirates' lead to 51-45. Though the Pirates were able to recover the ensuing onsides kick, they were unable to milk the clock, giving Leftwich 50 seconds with which to work.

Eight plays and 43 ticks later, the Herd pulled even at 51. The missed extra point attempt forced the extra stanzas, which merely delayed the Marshall celebration.

After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, ECU settled for Kevin Miller's fourth field goal of the evening, a 37-yarder to give the Pirates a brief three-point edge before Marshall notched the winning score.

"It's tough — beyond tough," Henry said. "Those guys in the locker room right now — the senior class is just shocked.

"We know the hard work that we put into not just this season, but the four years that we've been here, and to come up on the short end as we have this past season... it hurts."

Marshall began the second half, much like ECU started the first, when Ralph Street intercepted an errant Garrard pass on the second play from scrimmage and raced 25 yards for a score inch to within 38-15.

It was the first of two interceptions the Thundering Herd would return for scores during its second half onslaught.

"He (Street) didn't even drop back into coverage," Garrard said. "He was just being blocked, jumped up, and the ball was right there."

Garrard finished the day with a modest 161 yards passing on eleven of 23 attempts. The senior quarterback also added 40 yards on the ground, including two scores.

The Herd would then turn to its dynamic battery of Leftwich and Watts, which connect on a 44-yard throw and catch to give Marshall first and goal at the Pirates' nine-yard line. Leftwich would do the rest of the work, trotting nine yards for the touchdown on the very next play.

East Carolina would answer with Miller's second field goal of the day, this one a 22-yard kick, to give the Pirates a 41-22 lead. The drive was kept alive when Garrard connected with Derrick Collier on a 33-yard strike on third and nine.

Garrard's second interception was returned 30 yards for a score by Terence Tarpley to close the gap to 41-29. That was followed by a Richard Alston fumble that led to a 15-yard touchdown run by Marshall's Franklin Wallace to close the deficit to 41-36.

"Leonard (Henry) was trying to get out there to get a block on the guy because it was just a quick pass," Garrard said about the interception, a pass intended for junior H-back Richard Alston. "I guess he just missed him, and the guy just cut between the ball and Richard."

The Pirates missed a chance to extend their lead to two scores when Garrard's nine-yard touchdown run was nullified by a penalty with just under 12 minutes to play. ECU would get a 32-yard field goal off the foot of Miller, capping a 15-play, 65-yard drive to give the Pirates an eight-point margin.

The Herd clawed closer when Leftwich found Marriott on a perfect 30-yard lob to close the gap to two at 44-42. Leftwich's pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, which preserved the Pirates' narrow lead.


Much like its first appearance in Mobile, the Pirates wasted little time lighting the scoreboard. Ty Hunt snared a tipped pass at the Herd 12-yard line on the second play from scrimmage, returning it untouched for the score to give East Carolina an early 7-0 lead.

On the play, Leftwich was under intense pressure, misfiring the ball behind Marriott, who was unable to handle the errant pass.

ECU benefited from another turnover on the Herd's very next possession, this time a Leftwich fumble that was scooped up by cornerback Jerome Steward, who returned the ball 43 yards to up the Bucs' lead to 14-0. The fumble was caused by an errant snap that evaded the strong-armed Leftwich.

Steward would later add an interception, earning himself defensive player of the game honors.

When the Pirates finally got the ball, they wasted little time finding paydirt when Garrard capped a six-play, 64-yard drive with an option keeper from nine-yards out. The two-minute, nine-second drive was highlighted by a 27-yard scamper by Alston off an option pitch to Garrard to give the Pirates first and goal at the Herd nine-yard line.

Kevin Miller's field goal with 9:06 to play in the first half pushed the Pirates' lead to 24-0. The 25-yard boot was the first successful field goal attempt in bowl history, and culminated an eight-play, 45-yard drive that elapsed four minutes.

Marshall finally cracked the scoreboard with 6:35 left to play in the first half when Leftwich found All-America receiver Darius Watts wide open in the end zone from 35 yards on fourth and five. The Herd followed with a successful two-point conversion when running back Trod Buggs took a direct snap and broke two tackles on his way to the end zone to narrow ECU's lead to 24-8.

The Pirates then went to their quick-strike attack, scoring twice in the next two minutes. The first came when Leonard Henry waltzed untouched seven yards to give the Pirates a 31-8 advantage.

The ensuing kickoff was fumbled and recovered by safety Travis Heath at the 20-yard line. Three plays later, Garrard notched his second touchdown of the evening off a six-yard option keeper to give the Pirates a 30-point cushion at 38-8.

But it would prove to be anything but a cushion.

"I told the guys in the locker room that the game was going to be won in the fourth quarter," senior defensive tackle Bernard Williams said. "If you look at that game, the ballgame was won in the fourth quarter."

And unfortunately for Williams and the Pirates, the fourth quarter belonged to the Herd.

The 125 combined points was an NCAA bowl record, shattering the old mark of 96 scored in the 1996 Copper Bowl.

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Game Capsule

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02/23/2007 01:42:01 AM

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