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Thundering Herd Caught from Behind by Toledo

Associated Press Writer

TOLEDO, OH (AP) — Marshall, which will challenge East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl, was all but sizing up its fifth Mid-American Conference championship ring when Toledo's Chester Taylor got started.
Then they couldn't stop him.
Taylor ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns as Toledo overcame an early 23-point deficit to beat No. 20 Marshall 41-36 on Friday night in the MAC title game.
``We just had to keep getting him the ball. We knew something would happen,'' Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. ``We kept on believing the whole game.''
It's hard to imagine he could've expected this comeback.
After falling behind 23-0 in the first quarter and finishing the half at 23-10, Toledo scored on its first four possessions of the second half to take a 35-29 lead.
Taylor, who had just 36 yards in the first half, scored on an 8-yard run with 6:34 left to put the Rockets (9-2) ahead for the final time.
``We knew it was just a matter of time that the offense would start clicking,'' Taylor said.
It was Toledo's first win in the MAC title game in three tries and ended Marshall's streak of four straight conference titles.
The way Toledo finally took the lead was surprising.
Place-kicker Todd France set up for a field goal, but instead took a handoff from holder Tavares Bolden, and ran untouched 16 yards into the end zone, banging into the goal post to celebrate his first career touchdown.
``I thought when I called the play I might be the biggest nut in America,'' Amstutz said.
Instead, he looked like the smartest.
Neither offense could be stopped in the second half as the lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter.
``We let them get back in the game,'' Marshall coach Bob Pruett said. ``We are able to answer usually, but they got the ball back and they got life.''
Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich led an 87-drive that he capped with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Denero Marriott. It was Marriott's fourth touchdown catch and gave the Thundering Herd (10-2) a 36-35 lead with 11:56 to play.
Leftwich had one more chance to take the lead, but his final pass sailed through the end zone on a fourth down with 2:43 remaining. The MAC's player of the year, Leftwich finished 32-of-52 for 420 yards and one interception.
Both teams still have one more game left because, for the first time, the MAC championship didn't determine who received the conference's automatic bowl bid.
Marshall already has secured the league's spot against the Pirates in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, AL., on December 19. Toledo will play in the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, MI, on Dec. 29 against an opponent to be determined, likely Cincinnati.
It will be the first time two league schools have played in the postseason.
It looked like Marshall was on its way to seeing its season-long dream of ``One for the Thumb'' come true. The Herd had won four straight titles since returning to the conference in 1997.
Leftwich came out throwing on Marshall's first drive, picking apart the defense with short passes. He found Marriott in the back of the end zone on a 16-yard throw that gave Marshall a 7-0 lead.
The Thundering Herd then caught the Rockets napping on the kickoff and recovered an onside kick at the Toledo 47.
Leftwich wasted no time in finding Marriott again on a 15-yard touchdown pass just seven minutes into the game.
Marshall was on the verge of blowing the game open when Franklin Wallace took a handoff and burst through the middle of the defense and ran 62 yards for a touchdown that gave the Herd a 20-0 lead.
The Herd dominated the first quarter, piling up 282 yards. The Rockets couldn't generate any offense, running just six plays for 7 yards in the quarter.
Taylor finally got Toledo's offense started in the second quarter, grinding out short gains on the ground. Carl Ford then took a short pass from Tavares Bolden over the middle and appeared to be stopped before Ford reversed direction and raced 26 yards into the end zone.
France added a 23-yard field goal just before the half to pull Toledo to 23-10.
AP-NY-12-01-01 0028EST

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02/23/2007 10:36:58 AM

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