MU watches ‘Sanford run’

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 6, 2000

The Associated Press

Friday, October 06, 2000

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall no longer has a stranglehold on the rest of the Mid-American Conference.

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Robert Sanford scored three second-half touchdowns and ran for 140 of his 203 yards after halftime as Western Michigan beat Marshall 30-10 on Thursday night, ending the Herd’s Division I-A-best home winning streak at 33 games.

Marshall lost a conference game for first time since October 1998, a streak of 12 games.

”This was a chance for us to be seen by the whole country,” Western Michigan’s Steve Neal said. ”Marshall’s not the only good team in the MAC now.”

The Broncos (5-1, 3-0 Mid-American) avenged a 34-30 loss to Marshall in last year’s conference championship game in Huntington.

”To me, there was no redemption factor involved. We just focused like it was any other game,” Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell said.

The Herd (2-3, 1-1) had not lost at home since the Division I-AA championship game in 1995 against Montana. The Herd rejoined Division I-A in 1997. Top-ranked Florida State now has Division I-A’s longest home and overall winning streaks at 31 and 15 games.

”I’ve never lost here,” said Bob Pruett, Marshall’s fifth-year coach. ”It’s certainly disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Marshall and Western could end up playing again for the conference title in December in Huntington. The two teams are determined by wins against teams within the division. Western is in the West Division and Marshall is in the East.

In last year’s MAC championship game in Huntington, Western Michigan blew a 23-point lead in the second half and lost on Chad Pennington’s 1-yard TD toss with four seconds left.

Marshall tried to work another miracle Thursday night.

Down 24-7, an 11-yard punt gave Marshall the ball at the Western 26. Byron Leftwich then hit Nate Poole with a 10-yard TD pass with 7:14 left.

A minute later, Marshall’s Larry Davis picked up Sanford’s fumble and returned to the Western 38, but Lanier Washington dropped his second pass of the game at the goal line and Leftwich’s next pass was intercepted in the end zone on the following play.

Western then drove the length of the field, with Sanford scoring on a 39-yard run.

Marshall outgained the Broncos 414-407, but the Herd turned the ball over three times on downs in Western Michigan territory, twice inside the 10.

A week after throwing for a career-high 378 yards against Buffalo, Leftwich was 19-of-40 for 264 yards.

Under constant pressure behind a banged-up offensive line, Leftwich missed 11 of his first 15 passes, many on overthrows and drops.

Leftwich hurt his left ankle when he was sacked by Jason Babin with 6:32 left in the third quarter. Leftwich left for one play.

”We noticed he was hurt, so we went after him more,” linebacker Terrence Moore said. ”We just tried to tighten the choke hold on him as the game went on.”

Marshall’s three points in the first half were its fewest this season.

On Western’s opening drive, Jeff Welsh threw toward Corey Alston in double coverage. Chris Crocker intercepted at the Marshall 30 and returned to the Western 42.

On the next play, Washington dropped a pass at the 2 and Marshall settled for J.R. Jenkins’ 26-yard field goal.

Welsh then drove the Broncos 80 yards in five plays, capped by his 8-yard TD toss to Neal, who became the second MAC player with 200 career receptions.

Western’s 286 yards rushing were second this season to the 295 it had against Indiana State on Sept. 16.

”Tonight the key was the offensive line,” Darnell said. ”They blocked incredibly well for Robert, especially in the second half.”

Sanford also had a pair of 1-yard TD runs. A 45-yard punt return by Josh Bush set up his first TD for a 14-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

”We didn’t have a big (halftime) lead this year. We treated like it was tied at the half, and we just knew we had to outperform them in the second half,” Sanford said.

After Brad Selent kicked a 32-yard field goal, Sanford’s second TD early in the fourth quarter gave the Broncos a 24-3 lead.

Pruett was so frustrated over his running game that he sent in third-string running back Gladstone Coke to start the second half. Marshall finished with 90 yards rushing, the third time it has been held under 100 yards this season.