Marshall 64, East Carolina 61, 2 OTs

Thursday, December 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Memo to the fans who left at halftime: You missed quite a show.

You missed Byron Leftwich throwing for 243 yards and three touchdowns after the third quarter of Marshall's 64-61, double-overtime victory over East Carolina in Wednesday night's GMAC Bowl.

You missed Darius Watts making a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone to tie it at 51 with 7 seconds left in regulation _ and the missed extra point that would have won it for Marshall earlier.

And you missed the highest scoring bowl game in history, and the Thundering Herd's comeback from a 38-8 halftime deficit.

``Lord, have mercy,'' East Carolina coach Steve Logan exclaimed. ``I hope everyone got their money's worth.''

Previously, the highest-scoring bowl was Texas Tech's 55-41 victory over Air Force in the 1995 Copper Bowl. That was a defensive struggle compared to this one.

``It's a shame that a team had to lose,'' said Bob Pruett, who picked up a Marshall-record 69th coaching win. ``This is two teams that really went at it.''

Leftwich capped his 576-yard, four-touchdown night with an 8-yard scoring toss to Josh Davis to end it after East Carolina started the second overtime with a field goal.

``I can't give up,'' Leftwich said. ``That's stupid to give up. It doesn't make no sense.

The Thundering Herd (11-2) scored 43 points in the second half, 28 in the third quarter. Apparently, Pruett's halftime sermon worked.

``I talked to them about not quitting, never quit trying,'' he said. ``When you are down 38-8, you're grabbing out there for something.''

It was an appropriate end for the Pirates (6-6), who lost five games by seven points or less and frequently struggled in the second half.

``This is the strangest team I have ever been around in my life,'' Logan said. ``It is just a very strange dynamic all season long. That was typical of almost every game this year.''

Leftwich finished 41-of-70 with four scoring passes and a TD run.

Ahead 51-45, East Carolina recovered an onsides kick in the final two minutes. But the Pirates couldn't run out the clock and punted into the end zone.

Marshall took over at its 20 with 50 seconds left and no timeouts. Leftwich had three completions of 20-plus yards to set up the tying score.

After Watts' grab made it 51-all, Curtis Head's extra-point try was wide right, his seventh missed PAT of the year.

Head's 28-yard field goal with 1:53 remaining cut the deficit to six points.

Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime. Marshall's Franklin Wallace had a 2-yard run and Leonard Henry came back with a 25-yard TD on the next play.

Henry gained 195 yards on 29 carries, but would rather have had the win.

``It hurts,'' he said. ``There's nothing we can say. There's nothing we can do. This game, it was how our season went all year.''

Marshall held East Carolina to Kevin Miller's 37-yard field goal in the second overtime.

Then, Leftwich hit Marriott for a 21-yard completion. After two running plays lost yardage, Leftwich connected with Davis to win it on third-and-goal.

The game featured four defensive touchdowns, two by East Carolina in the first four minutes of the game and two by Marshall in the third quarter.

Marriott had 15 catches for 234 yards and Watts added 133 yards and two scores on seven receptions.

The teams combined for 1,141 total yards.

``It was amazing,'' Pruett said.

A few thousand fans left at halftime, and they missed seeing the Thundering Herd come back with 25-yard interception returns by Ralph Street and Terrence Tarpley in the third quarter.

An East Carolina fumble then set up Wallace's 15-yard scoring run to make it 41-36 with a minute left.

Miller then hit a 32-yard field goal, his third, after David Garrard's touchdown run was negated by a holding call.

Marshall committed just nine turnovers in its first 12 games, but nearly self-destructed with four in the opening half.

Ty Hunt returned an interception 12 yards for a score, and Jerome Steward scooped up Leftwich's fumble for a 43-yard score.

Steward added an interception in the back of the end zone late in the first quarter.

East Carolina also converted a muffed punt into Garrard's 6-yard scoring run late in the second.

There were no such mistakes in overtime.

``I told them please don't fumble,'' Logan said. ``I didn't want to lose the game on a turnover. You either want a touchdown or a field goal, and to their credit, they did.''