Marshall Rallies For MAC Championship

Updated 12/4/1999
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JOHN RABY
Associated Press Writer

Marshall's Doug Chapman scores on a 24-yard run in the third quarter. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) (Dec. 3) - Chad Pennington didn't expect No. 11 Marshall to win its third straight Mid-American Conference championship this way. Yet he knew a 23-point deficit was not insurmountable.

Pennington threw three second-half touchdown passes, including a 1-yarder to Eric Pinkerton with four seconds Friday night left that gave Marshall a 34-30 win over Western Michigan and a berth in the Motor City Bowl.

"This was a total team effort," Pennington said. "There was never any doubt we could come back."

One of the greatest rallies in school history preserved a perfect season for Marshall (12-0) and gave them the MAC's automatic bid to the Motor City Bowl, where it will play BYU (8-3) on Dec. 27 at Pontiac, Mich.

A loss in the league title game would have left the Thundering Herd out of postseason play.

"We're 12-0 now," defensive back Danny Derricott said. "Our next try is for a perfect season in the bowl game."

James Williams hauls in a 17-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Pennington's 100th career touchdown pass gave Marshall its 16th straight win, the longest streak in Division I-A.

Western Michigan (7-5) lost for the second time to Marshall in three weeks and failed in its bid for its first MAC title since 1988.

"Their defense stepped up when they needed to and they won," said Western Michigan quarterback Tim Lester, who was outdueled by Pennington for the second time in a month. "So I just hope they beat BYU."

Marshall's 34-point onslaught in the second-half was nearly as stunning as its self-destruction in the first half, when it gained just 133 total yards and trailed 20-0, the first time it was held scoreless at halftime in four seasons.

"At halftime we went in and I told our offense and our coaches that we were going to come and go no-huddle, try to change the tempo of the game and get our crowd back in the game," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said.

Down 30-27, Marshall got the ball back one last time with 3:09 left at its own 26.

Pennington, who completed 20 of 31 passes for 284 yards, hit James Williams for a first down on fourth-and-5.

On the next play, Pennington scrambled down the left sideline for a 33-yard gain and Western Michigan was called for a late hit, putting the ball at the Broncos' 14 with 51 seconds left.

Western Michigan's Corey Alston celebrates his touchdown reception in the first quarter. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

After two short running plays by Doug Chapman, Pennington threw to Williams at the 1 and Pennington spiked the ball on the next play to stop the clock with 15 seconds left.

After Pennington's sneak went for no gain, Marshall took its final timeout.

Rather than immediately going for a field goal that would have forced overtime, Pruett decided to try one more play.

Pennington rolled to his right and threw to a wide-open Pinkerton, a senior tight end who made his second career reception and scored his first touchdown.

"Pinkerton is a tough guy. We had to find a way to get him on the field," Pruett said.

Marshall trailed 20-0 at halftime and gave up a field goal early in the second half. School officials did not know whether the comeback was the biggest in team history.

Led by Pennington and Chapman, the Thundering Herd scored four touchdowns in an 8:20 span.

Chapman, who earlier had a 24-yard TD run, scored from 2 yards out with 12:36 left in the game for Marshall's first lead, 27-23.

Eric Bettys sacks Chad Pennington in the first quarter of the MAC Championship Game. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Lester responded by leading Western on a 75-yard scoring drive, capped by his 4-yard TD toss to Jake Moreland to put the Broncos ahead 30-27 with 7:20 left.

"That was just a huge drive for our program," Lester said. "But then they took it back. You have to give them credit."

Lester, who was 27-of-40 for 282 yards, threw an interception on the game's final play.

"In the fashion we won tonight's ballgame, I thought I was going to have a heart attack out there on the field at times," said Marshall defensive lineman Giradie Mercer.

"I think tonight's game showed the character of this football team. At halftime, we could have folded the tents."