Marshall in Florida to face Northern Illinois
Justin Haig’s fourth field goal of the blustery afternoon kicked Marshall into the first-ever Boca Raton Bowl as the Conference USA champions. With the conference championship game against invading Louisiana Tech tied at 23-23, Haig swept his right leg through another successful kick on the game’s last play, giving the Thundering Herd the last points needed to win the league title in the rain and wind that held the teams and the 21,711 fans at Joan Edwards Stadium in its grip. Haig kicked four field goals and two extra points in the last-seconds victory.
Marshall was crowned the Conference USA champion, giving it a 12-1 overall record and a place against traditional power Northern Illinois in the bowl being played for the first time on Florida’s east coast and in the stadium used by Florida Atlantic University.
Northern Illinois is the Mid-American Conference champion and moved its overall record to 11-2 with a 51-17 win over Bowling Green in the championship game of its league.
The Huskies have been conference champions in three of the last four years and are going to their seventh consecutive bowl game. They’ll take a seven-game win streak with them and had losses this season to only Arkansas and Central Michigan. The Huskies defeated Northwestern of the Big 10 Conference.
Northern Illinois has won 11 or more games in each of the last five seasons.
It has Camer Stingily (895 rushing yards) and quarterback Drew Hare (850 yards) as its leading rushers . . . and Hare threw for 2,097 yards and 17 touchdowns. Da’Ron Brown has 64 catches for 1,002 yards. Marlon Moore was credited with 93 tackles and Rasheen Lemon had 86 stops.
When Marshall edged Louisiana Tech last Saturday it improved to 12-1 overall. The only loss was a 67-66 verdict won by visiting Western Kentucky in Huntington. The Thundering Herd has averaged 45 points a game.
Rakeem Cato is a four-year starter at quarterback and he threw 37 touchdown passes and had 3,622 passing yards this season. Like Hare, Cato can run and had 457 rushing yards to add to his total offense figure.
Devon Johnson rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns while Stewart Butler had 781 yards along the ground. Tommy Shuler had 74 pass receptions and eight touchdowns and Eric Frohnappel had 35 catches and five scores.
Marshall’s oft-tested defense was led by the 114 tackles from Neville Hewitt. Jermaine Holmes was credited with 96 stops, D.J. Hunter made 75 tackles and Darryl Roberts had 72 stops. Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett both had four interceptions.
The Boca Raton Bowl will be played on December 23 at 6 p.m. and will air on ESPN. Tickets cost $40 and will be some of the least costly items in the high-end, high-cost economy of the south Florida beach area.
Marshall and Northern Illinois have a history when both were members of the Mid-American Conference.
This is one of the 38 bowls played this holiday season. It’s locale and weather are going to please any bowl fanatic whose team has ever been sent to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, the bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, the Military Bowl in Annapolis or the Famous Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
Even a loss in the sun and balmy winds of Boca Raton will make the players believe their season was rewarded with a bowl game away from the northern temperatures and possible snow.