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Title game filled with controversy

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

HUNTINGTON -- For all the action on the field, Saturday's Mid-American Conference championship game was speckled with fights and a late, controversial call.

A brief scuffle broke out midway through the third quarter after Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich was hit by Toledo linebacker David Gardner well after the play was over.

Thundering Herd right guard Steve Peretta responded by hitting Gardner, and Toledo linebacker Lantz Jeudy hit Peretta. Both Peretta and Jeudy were ejected from the game. Both sidelines emptied, but the fight ended there.

Leftwich's pass was intended for tight end Jason Rader. But Rockets cornerback Brandon Hefflin intercepted it on a deflection.

This isn't the only time a fight has broken out on the field this season. On Nov. 23, Cincinnati and Hawaii players clashed after the game in Honolulu.

Punches were traded in that game, and Hawaii fans threw trash at Bearcat players as they left the field.

As Marshall was driving in the game's final minute, a flag was called on Toledo for pass interference when defensive back Patrick Body wrapped up Marshall receiver Josh Davis.

The pass fell incomplete, and the Herd would have faced a fourth-and-15 from their own 45. Instead, they had a first down at the Rockets 40. On the next play, Leftwich hit Darius Watts with the game-winning touchdown pass.

During an officials' discussion, Leftwich became visibly animated as one official discussed overturning the penalty.

"There was one guy trying to change six other guys‚ minds," Leftwich said.

The Rockets don't believe they were cheated in the final result.

"You don't let the game come down to a call," linebacker Tom Ward said. "That certainly didn't lose us the game."

Marshall also benefited from consecutive pass interference calls in the final seconds against Miami on Nov. 12. Backup quarterback Stan Hill scored on a 1-yard bootleg run with 5 seconds remaining to give the Herd a 36-34 victory.

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-144 or by e-mail at rpeirce@exponent-telegram.com.