Herd routs Louisville in GMAC Bowl

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

MOBILE, Ala. -- Byron Leftwich and Marshall didn't need a miracle comeback this time in the GMAC Bowl.

Leftwich became the first player in Division I-A history to throw four touchdown passes in two bowl games, leading Marshall to a 38-15 victory over Louisville on Wednesday night.

Marshall (11-2) won a bowl for the fifth consecutive year, the longest such streak in the nation. Top-ranked Miami has won four straight.

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Leftwich led Marshall to three of the bowl wins. This year's was special because it came in his last game -- and practically on one leg.

Already slowed by a sore shin injured in early November, he took several hits in the first quarter and hobbled back to the huddle.

''On one leg he's better than anybody else in the country,'' coach Bob Pruett said.

X-rays taken on the leg at halftime were negative.

''Once I got hit in the leg I couldn't step with my plant foot. So I was just trying to do what I could do just to get the ball in the receivers' hands,'' Leftwich said.

In last year's GMAC Bowl, the Thundering Herd came from 30 points down to beat East Carolina 64-61 in double-overtime behind Leftwich's 576 yards passing in the highest-scoring bowl game ever.

No such comebacks were needed this time for the Mid-American Conference champions as they took a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.

By then, word had filtered down to the Louisville players that coach John L. Smith was a candidate for the vacant coaching job at Michigan State.

''The whole sideline knew,'' said Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone. ''I tried to put some water on the fire, but it was hard to regroup.''

Smith said he'll meet with Michigan State on Thursday but declined further comment.

Louisville (7-6) finished with its worst record in Smith's five years. The Cardinals were 11-2 last year.

Louisville got inside the Marshall 30 just twice and went 0-for-13 on third downs. The Cardinals gained just 88 yards in the first half.

''This was the best defensive game since I've been here,'' said Marshall free safety Chris Crocker. ''I've never seen our front and our secondary come together like this.''

The game was billed as a matchup of two of the nation's top quarterbacks.

Leftwich, picked as the game's Most Valuable Player, did his part, going 22-of-44 for 249 yards.

He threw TD passes of 8 and 13 yards to backup receiver Demetrius Doss -- who had one scoring catch all season -- and 9 and 26 yards to Denero Marriott. Marriott had 10 catches for 137 yards.

Ragone went 20-of-45 for 193 yards. He'll get another chance when he returns to Mobile on Jan. 18 for the Senior Bowl.

''Dave Ragone who?'' Crocker said. ''We just came in really focused and knowing what they were going to do before they did it. We got to him a couple times and rattled him. He didn't know what to do with the ball.''

Midway through the fourth quarter, Jamus Martin stripped Ragone and Jonathan Goddard recovered the fumble. A personal foul penalty gave Marshall the ball at the Louisville 16, and Butchie Wallace scored on first down for a 38-7 lead.

It was a disappointing finish to an up-and-down season for Louisville.

The Cardinals started ranked 17th but lost the opener at home to Kentucky. There also was a win over then-No. 4 Florida State and a loss at 4-7 Houston to finish the regular season.