PONTIAC, Mich. - Over and over, the Herd heard the talk.
With the third-best regular season record in the Mid-American Conference, people said the Thundering Herd of Marshall didn't belong in the fourth annual Motor City Bowl.
Marshall coach Bob Pruett wants to know who's talking now.
His Herd rallied from a 14-9 halftime deficit with 13 third quarter points and went on to beat the Cincinnati Bearcats 25-14 yesterday at the Silverdome.
“I think, yes, we vindicated ourselves,” Pruett said. “Certainly, we belong in a bowl game.”
Marshall, the East Divsion champion, qualified for the contest by beating Western Michigan in the MAC championship game earlier this month. Toledo (10-1) and Western Michigan (9-3) had better regular season records than Marshall's 7-5.
“People around the country need to understand the strength of the Mid-American Conference,” Pruett said.
Yet Conference USA sent four teams to NCAA postseason action, including second-place Cincinnati. The MAC had just Marshall.
“There's a lot of teams out there that won six ballgames that aren't as good as Toledo, Western Michigan or Ohio University,” Pruett said.
Or as good as the Herd. Especially in the second half.
“At halftime, the coaches told us that we just had to stop making mistakes and the game would come to us,” said Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, who completed 17 of 31 passes and was named the game's most valuable player. “I think in the third quarter, we really showed that.”
Helped by a 29-yard Cincinnati punt on its first possession of the second half, the Herd went on top 15-14 with a 4 play, 41-yard drive. The big gainer was a 30-yard post pattern from Leftwich to Nate Poole.
After forcing Cincy to punt again on its next possession, Marshall took advantage of a pass interference call against the Bearcats that moved the ball to the 4-yard-line. Frank Wallace punched it on the next play.
The win, in what was expected to be a rebuilding year, made Marshall 3-1 in the four years of the Motor City Bowl.
“For the rest of the Mid-American Conference, you're looking at a very young Marshall team,” Cincinnati coach Rick Minter said. “This is a team that cut its teeth here today.”
- DAN SAEVIG