RedHawks hammer Herd, 45-6

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2003

OXFORD, Ohio - The goal posts were shaking, the flag poles were bending. The gusting wind had everything rattled - except Ben Roethlisberger.

Throwing tight spirals that cut through the tricky wind, Roethlisberger led No. 23 Miami of Ohio to a 45-6 victory Wednesday night that ended Marshall's dominance of the Mid-American Conference.

While fans huddled against gusts of more than 30 mph and teammates tried to keep their balance, Roethlisberger smoothly threw for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

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''I was trying not to get blown away a few times,'' he said. ''I told the receivers it's not going to be pretty, but I'll get it there. If you can't throw a spiral in this wind, you're in trouble.''

With its quarterback mastering the conditions, Miami (9-1, 6-0) was never in trouble. Playing with their first national ranking since 1976, the RedHawks got their ninth straight win and the most meaningful one yet.

Marshall (6-4, 4-2) had won all six MAC East titles since the league split into two divisions in 1997. Miami's win clinched the title and a berth in the conference's championship game.

''They just whipped us, what can I say?'' Marshall coach Bob Pruett said. ''We've put those kinds of whippings on people and walked away with a grin. They deserve to grin and walk away as champions.''

There were no clashes during a wind-blown game that had bitter undertones from last year, when quarterback Stan Hill's 1-yard run with 5 seconds left gave the Thundering Herd a 36-34 victory in Huntington, W.Va.

Fans stormed the field and Miami defensive coordinator Jon Wauford was led away in handcuffs, accused of knocking down a fan. Wauford resigned after the season, and a charge of misdemeanor battery later was dropped. Linebackers coach Taver Johnson also was disciplined for damaging the visiting coaches' box at the end of the game.

Three security officers stood watch over Pruett on the field Wednesday. Most of the crowd of 26,286 had left by the end of the game, seeking shelter from the unrelenting wind and temperatures that dropped 20 degrees after the kickoff.

''That was one of the toughest nights I've ever been involved with as a coach or player,'' Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. ''It didn't matter. The elements could not slow this team down tonight.''

Roethlisberger put Miami ahead to stay with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Matt Brandt on a game-opening drive into the wind, and finished it off with a 10-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

The junior quarterback joined Marshall's Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich as the only MAC players to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons.

''They've got a great quarterback,'' Pruett said. ''He definitely should go in the first round (of the NFL draft) and come out - get him out of this league. We've had those types of quarterbacks on our side.''

Roethlisberger, who completed 18 of 29 passes, also made the game's signature play, putting his head down and running over linebacker Gladstone Coke for a 14-yard gain that kept the opening drive going.

By contrast, Marshall's Graham Gochneaur had problems with the wind and the defensive pressure. His off-target throw into the wind was intercepted by linebacker Terna Nande and returned 43 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-0.

Gochneaur was making his fifth start in place of Hill, who had surgery to repair a torn knee ligament. He finished 14-of-25 for 113 yards with two interceptions, contributing to Marshall's five-turnover game.

Mike Smith scored on runs of 2 and 17 yards as Miami pulled ahead 28-6 at halftime.