Herd Ready To Go Bowling
GMAC Bowl Game Notes
No opponent elicits more emotion from Marshall University football fans than does East Carolina University. The two schools became forever linked on November 14, 1970, when, on the return flight from Greenville where the Herd had dropped a hard-fought 17-14 decision to the Pirates, the charter plane carrying the team crashed, killing all 75 people on board.
Since that fateful day more than 31 years ago, the two schools have played just once, a 45-0 ECU victory in 1978. Scheduling talks almost always bring up the possibility of the two schools renewing their rivalry, but it just never seems to work out.
Now the Herd and Pirates will meet, in the third annual GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The game marks Marshallís fifth consecutive season in a bowl game, while ECU will be bowling for the 12th time in school history. Marshall has spent each of the past four Decemberís getting ready for and playing in the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac, Mich. This year the trip for the team and Herd fans will be south, to warm weather and palm trees. ECU is no stranger to Mobile, making their second appearance in the game. The Pirates lost to Texas Christian 28-14 in the inaugural game in 1999.
The ties between the two schools go even deeper than just that one November day. ECU Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick is a former Marshall player (1978-79) who played for then assistant coach Bob Pruett. In addition, former Marshall head coach, and current Herd TV commentator, Sonny Randle (1979-83) also served as head coach at East Carolina (1971-73). Randle had a 12-42-1 record while at Marshall and a 22-10 mark while at ECU.
This year the two teams also have many similarities on the field. Both sport big, strong-armed, mobile quarterbacks who are cut from the same mold as Duante Culpepper. Marshallís Byron Leftwich, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, became the first quarterback in the long history of the MAC to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. ECUís David Garrard did not throw for nearly as many yards, but triggers a high-powered offensive that ranks 35th in the nation.
On the other side of the ball the two teams are similar, yet different in their woes. ECU ranked 101st in the nation against the pass, but 58th against the run. Marshall ranked 37th in the country against the pass, but only 106th against the run.
The two teams are also both similar in that their regular seasons came to disappointing ends. Marshall saw a 23-point lead evaporate in the MAC Championship game and dropped a 41-36 decision to Toledo. ECU saw big first-half leads vanish in each of their last four games, including home losses to Louisville and Southern Miss in their final two outings.
For Marshall, the game will mark the final outing in a Herd uniform for 12 seniors. Over the last four season this group has been the driving force behind three MAC titles, three bowl victories, and an overall record of 34-8. The group includes five players from the state of Florida and one, defensive end Kelvin Smith from Gautier, Miss., who will be plying his final game less than an hour drive from his hometown.
Also while in Mobile, three Marshall players will celebrate birthdays. Running back Chanston Rodgers will be 22 on the 15th, defensive end Maurice McKinney will be 20 on the 18th and standout wide receiver Darius Watts will celebrate his 20th birthday on game day, Dec. 19.