Marshall captures Motor City Bowl victory

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No Randy Moss. No Chad Pennington. No problem.

Marshall showed that there's life after two of its biggest stars, both of whom now play in the NFL.

The Thundering Herd beat Cincinnati 25-14 Wednesday in the Motor City Bowl at the Silverdome, giving the Mid-American Conference champions a three-game winning streak in the bowl after losing the inaugural game in 1997.

"I hope you never get tired of us coming," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said.

Marshall (8-5) won six of its last seven games in what was expected to be a rebuilding year after Pennington graduated.

"One guy don't make a football team," Pruett said. "Certainly, we've had some great players here. But we've won 58 games in five years. One or two guys don't do that."

Marshall may not have any big-name players now, but it thinks it will have one in sophomore quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich threw a 77-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play of the game and rushed for a score, making up for two turnovers in the second quarter. Leftwich was 17-of-30 for 221 yards and earned the game's Most Valuable Player award.

"I always felt that I was a good quarterback, and the last two years I've been behind a great one in Chad," Leftwich said. "I just had to wait my turn and get a chance. I think today I really showed what I could do and I am proud to lead a continually proud line of Marshall quarterbacks."

Cincinnati (7-5), which won its last four regular-season games, played in just its second bowl since 1951. Deontey Kenner was 19-of-39 for 189 yards with two interceptions, and DeMarco McCleskey rushed for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

"Today's defeat is just a setback and is not detrimental to the program," Bearcats coach Rick Minter said. "This is the best team I've had here at Cincinnati in terms of character and playing ability."

Marshall scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half after Cincinnati went three-and-out on consecutive possessions. The Thundering Herd sealed the win on a 25-yard field goal from J.R. Jenkins with 43 seconds left.

The Bearcats' offense stalled at the Thundering Herd's 44 late in the third quarter and at their 41 midway through the fourth quarter when it had a chance to tie it.

Cincinnati also got the ball back at its 9 with 3:02 left, but couldn't get a first down after three passes were deflected near the line of scrimmage.

The flow of the game was interrupted by 25 combined penalties for 190 yards.

"I think the penalties killed us," Kenner said.

Marshall took a 7-0 lead when Leftwich connected with Darius Watts for the 77-yard touchdown. Leftwich threw the ball about 20 yards while Watts raced through the Bearcats defense the rest of the way for the score.

"Once you get the ball in that guy's hands, there's not too many guys that can catch him," Leftwich said.

The Bearcats also scored a touchdown on their first possession when McCleskey dove for a 1-yard touchdown.

Marshall's Michael Owens, who was named the game's top lineman, eluded a blocker and tackled Ray Jackson for a safety to give the Thundering Herd a 9-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Leftwich threw an interception and fumbled in Marshall territory on consecutive possessions in the second quarter.

The Bearcats scored after second turnover to take a 14-9 lead with 1:44 left in the half. On a fourth-and-1, McCleskey took an option pitch and ran in easily for a 2-yard touchdown.

Marshall also scored on its first possession of the second half on Leftwich's 1-yard sneak.

Frank Wallace, who rushed for 78 yards, capped an 11-play drive with a 4-yard run to put Marshall ahead 22-14. Leftwich was 6-of-7 for 54 yards during the 56-yard drive.

Moss and Pennington weren't on the field to help the Thundering Herd, but Minter thought they helped nonetheless.

"They're winning today because of their presence attracts other players for years to come," the Cincinnati coach said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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