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Thursday, December 20
Leftwich makes an early Heisman statement

Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. -- Maybe they'll pay attention to Byron Leftwich now.

The Marshall junior was shut out in voting for the Heisman Trophy this year despite throwing for 4,132 yards and 38 touchdowns. Both ranked second in Division I-A to Fresno State's David Carr.

On Wednesday night, Leftwich made a statement for next season.

He brought the Herd back from a 30-point halftime deficit with 576 yards passing and four touchdowns, including an 8-yarder to Josh Davis in double-overtime to beat East Carolina 64-61 in the GMAC Bowl.

Leftwich was 41-of-70 with two interceptions and scored on a 9-yard run. He said it was far from a perfect performance.

"Did you see how many I missed?" Leftwich said. "I could have had about 800.

"That's the thing that you want to get better at. If everyone wants to say I'm a Heisman candidate, I've got to make those plays. That's what I've got to find a way to do."

If there's a school that knows how to churn out a Heisman finalist, it's Marshall.

Randy Moss was the Herd's first invitee in 1997. Leftwich's predecessor, Chad Pennington, followed two years later after leading Marshall to a 13-0 season and Top 10 ranking.

Coach Bob Pruett has groomed Leftwich in the same manner as Pennington, using Leftwich's junior season as a way to beef up his name recognition.

"I think he is the best quarterback in the country. Without a doubt, he is," Pruett said, ignoring the top six Heisman finishers, all quarterbacks.

"Hopefully we can use this to get us going for next year."

The 6-foot-6 Leftwich has embarked on his own campaign to set the record straight on himself.

"A lot of people don't know my first name. It's Byron. Not Brian," he said.

After Wednesday, many more will know.

With no timeouts and trailing 51-45, Leftwich took Marshall 80 yards in 50 seconds, hitting a leaping Darius Watts from 11 yards out with 7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

Curtis Head missed the extra point, sending the game into overtime and setting the stage for more heroics by Leftwich.

After both teams scored rushing touchdowns in the first overtime, and Marshall held East Carolina to a field goal in the second overtime, Leftwich went back to work.

Starting from the 25, he threw to Denero Marriott at the 4. Two running plays lost 4 yards, and on third down, Leftwich threw a bullet that Davis snared in the middle of the end zone.

A flag flew on the play, and the outcome was delayed for a moment as everyone waited to hear the referee's call. The signal that the penalty was on East Carolina ignited a celebration that seemed highly unlikely for most of the night.

"Byron is an awfully good player," East Carolina coach Steve Logan said, still in disbelief. "I hope he stays in school. He can be a very high-round draft pick."

Leftwich, who already has said he's coming back next season, was part of the reason Marshall had to come from far behind.

He threw an interception on the second play from scrimmage that Ty Hunt returned 12 yards for a touchdown.

On Marshall's second possession, the snap went over Leftwich's right shoulder. East Carolina's Jerome Stewart picked up the bouncing ball on the Marshall 43 and scored untouched.

By the time Leftwich found Watts for a 35-yard score midway through the second quarter, Marshall was battling a double-digit deficit that eventually grew to 38-8 at halftime.

"I can't give up. Man, that's stupid to give up," Leftwich said. "It doesn't make any sense. We came out here to win the ball game, and we have a chance to win it until that thing says 0:00.

"So we knew we could come out here, move the ball and score some points on these guys. It was just a matter of time when we were going to do it."

Marshall rallies to record-setting, two-OT victory