Marshall 5-0 at home, 5-2 all-time in conference championship games


HUNTINGTON — Marshall University football is looking for its 13th conference championship in school history, at a school playing football since 1895, when it faces Conference USA West Division champion Louisiana Tech on Saturday at noon at Huntington’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium, a game shown nationally on ESPN2.

Marshall, however, began winning titles about 85 years ago when President Stewart Smith of then-Marshall College was instrumental in the founding of the West Virginia (Intercollegiate, added later) Athletic Conference.


Marshall would win thet league’s first year title in 1925 under Coach Charles “Trusty” Tallman (4-1-4 season, 3-0-2 in league), as the league originally include the following schools: West Virginia University (until 1927), W.Va. Wesleyan, Bethany, Potomac State (now a branch of WVU), New River State (today’s WVU Tech), Glenville State, Fairmont State, Alderson (today’s Alderson-Broaddus, formed by merging with Broaddus College in 1932), Morris Harvey (today’s University of Charleston), Salem (now Salem International), Shepherd, West Liberty State, Davis & Elkins and Concord.


That league survived until 2013, when many of its members broke away to form the Division II Mountain East Conference that same year. Concord (12-0) is having an undefeated season so far in 2014, moving on to the second round of the D-II playoffs this Saturday and hosting 11-1 Bloomsburg, after winning a round two game over West Chester, 51-36, in Athens, W.Va. last weekend.


Tallman and the Herd won the WVIAC again in 1928 (8-1-1, 5-0, the year Fairfield Stadium – above – opened), while Marshall won under Coach Tom Dandelet a final time in 1931 (6-3, 4-1) before Marshall jumped to the Buckeye Conference in 1933. Marshall won that forerunner of the Mid-American Conference in 1937 with a 9-0-1 mark, 4-0-1 in league, beating the Flyers at Dayton in a snow storm for the title on a long touchdown by Bob Adkins (who later played four years for the Green Bay Packers) and gave Coach Cam Henderson his only conference title at Marshall.


Marshall did not win titles in its next two leagues, a short stint first in the Ohio Valley Conference (1949-52). The Herd should have added a title in that first year, as Marshall was 4-0 in the league in 1949 under Henderson in his final season. But he title instead being awarded to Evansville, who was 3-1-1 on the grounds Marshall did not play five OVC games, and Henderson had to settle for being carried off the field in his final win, which came over Milligan, 49-0, on Nov. 11, 1949.

MUFB 1940s Cam Henderson carried off Fairfield Stadium after game

The Herd then played 16 years in the Mid-American Conference, from 1953-68. In the MAC, Marshall’s best finish was second in both 1957 (6-3, 4-2, under Coach Herb Royer) and 1964 (7-3, 4-2, under Coach Charlie Snyder). Marshall was an independent from 1969-76 after being expelled from the MAC for recruiting violations in football that earned the Herd a one-year probation by the NCAA.


Marshall joined the Southern Conference in 1977, and began to win there after the league was dropped to I-AA for the 1982 season. Marshall won the league in 1988 with Coach George Chaump (11-2, 6-2, officially co-champs with Furman, who MU beat for the first time, 24-10, in the regular season), in 1994 under Coach Jim Donnan (12-2, 7-1, thanks to Coach Bill Stewart’s VMI team upsetting Appalachian State for the Keydets’ only win of the season in Boone, N.C. on the last day of the regular season) and in 1996, under first year Head Coach Bob Pruett. Marshall won the I-AA National Championship for a second time with a 15-0 mark, 8-0 in the league, was No. 1 in I-AA from start to finish and had the first perfect season at MU since the Herd was 8-0 in 1919.

Conference titles had to be earned in a championship game when Marshall rejoined Division I-A (today’s FBS) in 1997 when the Herd rejoined the MAC. As a new member, and as the host of the I-AA Championship at Edwards Stadium from 1992-96 (winning the first year and the last, also falling to Youngstown State in 1993 and Montana in 1995 — but also proud when 27,674 mostly Marshall fans turned out for the ’94 game, watching YSU beat Boise State in the championship, after the Broncos beat the Herd in the semifinals out in Idaho the previous week).

The MAC thought it was a good idea for the Herd to host — until Marshall appeared in and won four straight MAC Championships at home. In fact, the Herd is 5-0 in conference championship games at home, winning the MAC at Edwards Stadium in 1997-98-99-2000-2002.


For the 1997 game, 28,021 turned out for “The Snow Bowl” as heavy snow began falling in Huntington late on the afternoon of the evening game between Marshall (10-3 that season, 8-1 in the MAC) and the Toledo Rockets (9-2, 7-1) on Dec. 5. Snow fell throughout the first half, as maintenance struggled to keep yard lines, goal lines and side lines clear of the white stuff on the Astroturf.

Toledo led at the halftime by 7-3, as over three inches covered the field during the first 30 minutes of play, but Coach Bob Pruett and his staff did its usual great job of halftime adjustments, as quarterback Chad Pennington and All-American receiver Randy Moss hooked up for two touchdowns in the third quarter to give Marshall the lead.

Billy Malachevich added a 25-yard field goal to give the Herd a 20-6 lead to start the fourth quarter, and another Pennington-to-Moss 20-yard touchdown reception and a Doug Chapman late touchdown run gave the Herd the title. Toledo tacked on a late TD to set the final at 34-14.

MUFB 1997 against Toledo, Randy Moss TD

Randy Moss catches touchdown in “The Snow Bowl” win over Toledo in the 1997 MAC Championship game.

Marshall advanced to its first bowl game in 50 years (falling to Catawba College in the Tangerine Bowl on Jan. 1, 1948) as the Herd meet Ole Miss in the inaugural Motor City Bowl, falling 34-31 to the SEC team.

In 1998, the weather was better, the crowd was 28,095 and Toledo was back for a rematch with Marshall at Edwards Stadium, as the Herd was 10-1 and undefeated in the East Division (losing only to the West’s Bowling Green). This time, MU took the early lead, with punter and holder Chris Hanson executing a fake field goal perfectly with a rush for touchdown to put the Herd up 6-0. Bacj cane UT when Chester Tait scored on a touchdown to give the Rockets a 7-6 lead.

Pennington took a hit in the second quarter that injured his groin, and freshman Byron Leftwich came in for the starter with only 12 passes all season under his belt. His first pass was intercepted by the Rockets, although the defense held and the Herd was down one point as halftime.

Pennington limped back into the game after the interception of his understudy, and continued to play in obvious pain, barely able to limp to the sidelines, down field after gains and up to the line out of huddles. UT’s Todd France added a field goal to put the Rockets up 10-6 in the fourth quarter.

Pennington drove the Herd up the field on the next series, hooking up with receiver Nate Poole on a 19-yard touchdown to give the lead back to Marshall, 13-10.

Marshall cornerback Danny “Lucky Charms” Derricott — who loved the breakfast cereal so much, he ate it before every game — made the play of the game, scooping up a fumble off a Toledo catch for a 20-yard touchdown to put Marshall up by ten, 20-10. Malashevich added a 32-yard field goal for a 23-10 lead, but the Rockets got a touchdown with 1:03 to play to trail by six, 23-17.

The Herd recovered the on sides kick, ran out the clock and had a second MAC title in hand, then beat Conference USA’s Louisville Cardinals for the first Marshall bowl win, 48-29, at the second Motor City Bowl.

MUFB Chad Pennington 1995-99

Chad Pennington won 3 MAC titles and two bowls over his four years at Marshall.

In 1999, 28,069 were in the house to watch the Herd go to a third Motor City Bowl and win a third straight MAC title when Western Michigan came in for the Friday night title game, again on ESPN. Marshall was 11-0 for the title game, opening with a win at Clemson, shutting out the Big East’s Temple and even beating the WMU Broncos, 31-17, in Kalamazoo, Mich. It seemed like a coronation instead of a title fight, but it turned ugly quickly — for Marshall.

The Broncos, coached by Pruett’s good friend Gary Darnell, jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the game on a Tim Lester TD pass and a Brad Selent field goal. In the second quarter, running back Robert Sanford ran in a score, Selent added another extra-point and field goal, and the Herd was down 20-0 at home in a championship game.

While Marshall came out with a plan to come back, it had to wait until Selent had added another field goal, and things looked bad at 23-0 for the Herd — but what a second half it would turn out to be.

Pennington gathered his offense, and scored an amazing 27 points in only the next 18 offensive plays to give the Herd the lead early in the fourth, 27-23. He passed for touchdowns to Poole and James Williams, and Chapman ran for two more scores as the mostly green and white fans roared to life.

Lester, however, would not go down without a fight. He rallied the Broncos, re-taking the lead with a touchdown pass to tight end Jake Moreland with 7:20 on the clock and in the game.

Pennington then took over. He moved the Herd down the field methodically, using the clock and eating up chunks of yardage with a 76-yard drive. With 7 seconds left on the clock, and Marshall down 30-27, many were thinking the Herd would have to throw to the end zone with third down and goal to go from the one, killing the clock if incomplete for a tying field goal to go to overtime.

But Pennington and Pruett were having none of that. Marshall’s quarterback took a step or two to the right and hit the most unlikely hero of all — H-Back Erik Pinkerson, who had been in the backfield most of the night for his blocking. The outside linebacker never gave Pinkerton a thought as he rushed by him towards the end zone, Pennington threw a dart and Pinkerton had the best first — and only — catch of a lifetime for the former linebacker for the winning score, 34-30, and the MAC title.

Marshall would knock off No. 25 BYU, 21-3, in the Motor City Bowl and finish No. 10 in the nation in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls.

Byron Leftwich with Rakeem Cato

Byron Leftwich, who led Herd to 2 MAC championships and three bowl wins, is with current MU QB Rakeem Cato at the 2013 Military Bowl win over Maryland.

In 2000, Leftwich was at the helm for the Herd as MU struggled early in the season. The Herd came out of the gate 2-4 on the year, losing by ten at Michigan State and five at North Carolina, then losing at WMU, 30-10, and being shut out at Toledo, 42-0. The Herd limped back into town for the Homecoming game with Kent State, worried about no having a winning season instead of about championship and bowl plans.

But Pruett had a plan for his first year starter at quarterback, and simplified the offense for the rookie. It led to four wins in a row and the MAC East title, thanks to wins over Buffalo, Kent State, at Akron, at Bowling Green, over Miami, making a loss at Ohio meaningless for the division title.

Western Michigan was back for the first Saturday afternoon championship game, after Sanford had torched the Herd in the loss in Kalamazoo for 203 yards rushing. Instead of trailing for the first time at halftime, Marshall led on two J.R. Jenkins field goals and a 44-yard bomb from Leftwich to rookie wide out Darius Watts for a 13-0 edge at the half.

Marshall’s 4-4-3 defensive change was limiting Sanford, also, as he would rush for only 67 yards in the game. Jeff Welsh, however, would rally the Broncos with two second half touchdown passes and gave Western a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

Leftwich, who threw for 358 yards in the championship, rallied the Herd once again, hitting John Cooper on a 29-yard touchdown to give Marshall the 19-14 win, and Derricott put the icing on the four-peat cake with an interception of Welsh in the final minute of the game in front of 24,816 fans.

Marshall traveled to Toledo for the 2001 Championship, as the decision — now that MU’s contract to host the MAC title game was up — was to alternate the game between the East and West Division champs, and Toledo won the West in ’01, beating the Herd in the title game at the Glass Bowl, 41-36.

Marshall did put some salve on the wound with an unbelievable bowl win at Mobile, Ala. in the GMAC Bowl, overcoming being down to East Carolina of C-USA 38-8 at the half to win the highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history, 64-61, in two overtimes.

MUFB 2002 GMAC Bowl Bob Pruett Holds Trophy after 38-15 win

Bob Pruett won six bowls and five MAC titles as head coach of the Herd.

Back in Edwards Stadium for the 2002 matchup with the Rockets once again for the MAC title, 24,592 showed up for another Friday night shootout between Toledo’s Brian Jones (221 yards passing, rushing for one touchdown) and an injured Leftwich, playing in pain since breaking his leg bone at Akron in a 34-20 loss.

Leftwich, with a screw holding the leg together, played in pain in the final two games — after Stan Hill engineered a 36-34, last-second win over Miami in his first start in the game after Akron — and beat Ohio (24-21) and Ball State (38-14) to get the Herd back to its sixth MAC title game in a row.

Marshall jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, with Leftwich hitting Denero Marriott for a 12-yard touchdown, and Franklin “Butchie” Wallace scoring on a one-yard run, and Curtis Head hitting both extra-points.

Trinity Dawson of Toledo got the Rockets on the board in the second quarter with a 37-yard run, and Jason Robbins added the PAT, then a 22-yard field goal to cut the MU lead to four. It blew back up to 18 points on a touchdown run of 9-yards for Brandon Carey, a fumble return for a touchdown of 36-yard by Herd linebacker Duran Smith, but the Rockets cut the lead back to 11 points on Astin Martin’s one-yard score at the end of the half for a 28-17 lead.

In the third, Dawson scored from two yards and ten yards to give the Rockets its first lead, 32-28, with 4:08 to go, but Leftwich found Marriott for his second touchdown a minute and one-half later to put the Herd back on top, 35-32.

In the fourth quarter, the teams would trade touchdowns. Dawson scored for the fourth time of the game with 9:59 to go to give Toledo a 39-35 lead. Back came Marshall with Leftwich to Watts at 7:51 to go for a 42-39 lead. Toledo scored on Jones’ only score of the game with 3:35 to go, now leading 45-42.

Leftwich got the ball back with 3:30 to go, and drove the Herd six plays and 73 yards, getting help from the Rockets and the refs. Toledo’s Keon Jackson dropped what should have been a drive killer, then Patrick Body of UT was called for pass interference, giving the Herd a first down at the Rockets’ 40. On the next play, Leftwich found Watts for a second score, catching a tight spiral at the 10 and easily running the final yards for the 40-yard touchdown with 49 seconds to play. Marshall now led, 49-45, but Toledo had 49 seconds left.

Jones drove the Rockets to the Marshall 39-yard line, but with time running out, his final pass was knocked down in the end zone for the Herd’s fifth MAC title in six years. The Herd headed back to the GMAC Bowl, but needed no heroics in a 38-15 win over the Louisville Cardinals in Mobile, Ala.

Joan and C-USA championship

Marshall lost last year at Rice, but is home this year for the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech on Saturday at noon at Edwards Stadium, looking for its first C-USA Championship, sixth conference title win at “The Joan” and its 13th title overall.

Marshall Football in Conference Championship games

1997 — at JCE Stadium (28,021), Marshall-34, Toledo-14^

1998 — at JCE Stadium (28,085), Marshall-23, Toledo-17^

1999 — at JCE Stadium (28,069), Marshall-34, Western Michigan-30^

2000 — at JCE Stadium (24,816), Marshall-19, Western Michigan-14^

2001 — at Glass Bowl, Toledo, Ohio, Toledo-41, Marshall-36^

2002 — at JCE Stadium (24,581), Marshall-49, Toledo-45^

2013 — at Rice Stadium, Houston, Tex., Rice-41, Marshall-24*

2014 — at JCE Stadium, Marshall (11-1, 7-1) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4, 7-1)*

^-Mid-American Conference championship game

*-Conference USA championship game

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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