Remembering a record night
Marshall, ECU set nine NCAA Bowl records in 2001
The 2001 GMAC Bowl between Marshall and East Carolina was one for the record books -- literally.
Ten years later it is still considered one of the most exciting college football games of all time and holds nine NCAA bowl records after Marshall rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit to beat East Carolina 64-61 in double overtime at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. The game featured two future NFL standouts at quarterback -- Byron Leftwich for Marshall and David Garrard for East Carolina -- and was expected to be a high-scoring affair.
"We tried to score a lot every week," Leftwich said. "However, in bowl games you are there for a week before the game and sometimes it can be hard to get focused so you never know how the game is going to turn out."
In the beginning, it seemed like the contest was going to be one-sided as East Carolina dominated the first quarter of play. In fact, on the game's second play from scrimmage, Leftwich threw a pass that bounced off his receiver's hands and into the arms of East Carolina's Ty Hunt, who returned it 12 yards for a touchdown.
The second drive didn't go any better for the Thundering Herd as the center snapped the ball over Leftwich's head and ECU's James Stewart picked it up and ran 43 yards for a touchdown. On its third possession, Marshall started marching the ball down the field, but it ended as other two did - in a turnover as Stewart intercepted Leftwich in the end zone. Garrard ran for a touchdown several minutes later as the Pirates took a 21-0 lead into the second quarter.
"It was just such a crazy game," Leftwich said. "For the first part of the game absolutely nothing went right. You just knew at some point it had to turn around."
However, it would take a while longer for the game to turn around for the Thundering Herd. Although Marshall finally got on the board on a touchdown pass by Leftwich in the second quarter, East Carolina couldn't be stopped and scored 17 more points in the frame to take a 38-8 lead into halftime.
"We were a very good team that year," Leftwich said. "In fact, we felt like we were one of the best teams in the country. We never imagined we would be down 38-8 to anyone. Coming out in the second half, we knew the defense would have to come up with a big play for us and that we would have to score every time we had the ball if we were going to win."
The second half started with a complete reversal of fortunes for Marshall as defensive back Ralph Street came up with the big play as he picked off a Garrard pass and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown. After Leftwich ran for a touchdown to close the gap even more, Terence Tarpley completely changed the momentum of the game as he intercepted a Garrard pass and took it 25 yards for another touchdown. Just before the end of the third quarter, Marshall added another touchdown to close the gap to 41-36 giving them plenty of time to finish the comeback.
However, neither team could establish control in the fourth quarter. After a Pirate field goal, Marshall had its first chance to tie the game when they scored to close the gap to 44-42, but the two-point conversion was no good. With five minutes remaining, East Carolina's Leonard Henry scored on a 55-yard run and with the extra point, the 51-42 lead appeared to be safe.
Marshall kicked a field goal with 1:53 left to close the gap to 51-45, but its onside kick attempt was recovered by the Pirates. East Carolina was unable to get a first down so they were forced to punt, which left the Thundering Herd with the ball at their own 20-yard line, 50 seconds remaining in the game and no timeouts. Leftwich led Marshall down the field and appeared to pull off the miracle win as he hit Darius Watts for a touchdown with seven seconds left to tie the score. However, the extra point was missed, sending the game into overtime.
In the extra period, both teams scored a touchdown on its first possession. However, on its second possession, ECU managed just a field goal while Leftwich responded with yet another touchdown pass to end the game victoriously for the Thundering Herd.
"The funniest part about the game that I still remember is the next morning I was having people call me to try and cheer me up," Leftwich said. "It was a very long game, so with us being down by 30 they had turned off the TV. Even now, people still bring that game up to me and ask me about it."
By the time the smoke cleared, Leftwich had passed for 576 yards on 41 of 70 passing with four touchdowns by air and one on the ground. The 576 yards tied BYU quarterback Ty Detmer's record from the 1989 Holiday Bowl. The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense, 125 points (a record), 61 of which came by East Carolina in a losing effort (also a record). The two teams also combined for 79 points in the second half (another record), 56 of which was by Marshall (a record).
The 30-point comeback was a record at the time, but has since been beaten by Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl when they overcame a 31-point deficit to defeat Minnesota, 44-41.
In the years after the game, the two starting quarterbacks from that day would eventually be teammates on the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, but Leftwich jokes that the game was never a topic of conversation.
"For some reason he didn't like to talk about it."
|NCAA BOWL RECORDS SET IN 2001 GMAC BOWL|
|Most Net Passing Yards: 576 -- Byron Leftwich, Marshall|
|Most Points by a Kicker: 19 -- Kevin Miller, East Carolina (4 FGs, 7 PATs)|
|Most Passing Yards: 576-Marshall|
|Most Touchdowns, Both Teams: 16-Marshall (9) and East Carolina (7)|
|Most Points, Losing Team: 61-East Carolina|
|Most Points, Both Teams: 125-Marshall (64) and East Carolina (61)|
|Most Points in Second Half (including OT): 56-Marshall|
|Most Points in Second Half, Both Teams (including OT): 79-Marshall (56) and East Carolina (23)|
|Most First Downs: 36-Marshall|
The NCAA Stats at 75 series will be published weekly through May and will include interesting statistical championship stories and all-time great performances.