HUNTINGTON, WV - Marshall jumped out to a 24-0 lead and then cruised to a 59-28 win over East Carolina to win the Conference USA East Division title.
Two teams came in with aspirations of grabbing home field advantage for next week's Conference USA Championship and one team came away the victor on Friday at Joan Edwards Stadium.
Rakeem Cato connected on 17 of 28 for 272 yards and two touchdowns with one intercepton for Marshall. Essray Taliaferro ran for 161 yards on 26 carries and Tommy Shuler caught nine passes for the Herd in the victory.
Shane Carden had his touchdown streak snapped at 20 games. Carden completed 29-52 for 291 with three interceptions in the ECU loss. Justin Hardy had ten catches for 88 yards. Hardy set the ECU single-season receptions record with his seventh catch in the first half surpassing Dwayne Harris' old record of 101 in 2010. Isaiah Jones hauled in nine catches for 123 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Derrell Johnson started his 48th straight game for ECU and made ten tackles for the Pirates in his final regular season outing with two sacks bringing his total to 7.5 sacks with 13.5 tackles for a loss. Senior safety Damon Magazu led the Pirates with eleven tackles and his tenth interception of his career.
Cory Tindal made twelve tackles while Neville Hewett had ten and Kevin McKelvey recorded nine for Marshall.
Marshall(9-3/7-1) generated 539 yards of total offense to 440 for East Carolina(9-3/6-2). The Herd rushed for 267 yards on the day.
"It was tough. We knew the had a good team and we knew we had one too. We fell behind early. We had a vision, we can't make mistakes, we didn't finish plays enough. There are some things we can take from it," said ECU Head Coach Ruffin McNeill, "We did a lot of things that folks didn't think we could do. this team has done some special things. We'll go to a bowl game. This team has a great fanbase and we'll travel. We have a chance to win ten games."
Marshall won the coin toss and deferred to ECU where they took the football for the 24th straight game, a streak that leads all of NCAA football. ECU was unable to score on the first drive.
After punting to the Herd, running back Essray Taliaferro ran through a big hole up the middle for 21 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later Taliferro zipped off guard for 28 more. The drive eventually bogged down, so the Herd called on Justin Haig who nailed a 42-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
After ECU was unable to score on the ensuing drive, Rakeem Cato found Tommy Shuler up the middle twice to advance the football to the ECU three-yard line where Devon Johnson pounded it in for Marshall's first touchdown of the day and a 10-0 game with 4:48 to go in the first period.
Herd defensive lineman Gary Thompson deflected then intercepted a Shane Carden pass and suddenly Marshall was knocking on the door for the third time where Cato ran it in around the left end for a Marshall touchdown to extend the lead to 16-0 with 1:05 in the first quarter.
Two more Shuler catches over the middle of the ECU secondary and a Cato scamper up the middle, coupled with a Steward Butler catch got Marshall into position once again. Pirate linebacker Kyle Tudor dropped a wide open interception on the next play that gave Cato and the Herd new life on third down. The Marshall quarterback then hit Shuler to the three yard line. One play later, Cato then found tight end Gator Hoskins in the back of the endzone for a three-yard touchdown for a 24-9 lead.
ECU unable to sustain a drive. Marshall return man Devon Smith ran a Trent Tignor ECU punt back 60 yards for an apparent touchdown that was called back on a holding penalty. That didn't stop Essray Taliaferro from dragging Pirates up the middle for 26 yards. But Taliferro was stripped by ECU linebacker Montese Overton where safety Chip Thompson scooped it up for the Pirates.
Carden got something cooking on a long pass to Isaiah Jones to the Marshall fourteen. Carden hit Hardy on an out pattern to the eight yard line. Breon Allen toted the football up the middle to the five. And on third and five Carden rolled right and found Jones for a first down to the two yard line. Vintavious Cooper took it in the rest of the way to trim the lead to 24-7 with 4:45 in the half.
Damon Magazu kept the ECU run going with an interception of Cato on the next drive, giving the Pirates the football with four minutes before halftime. Carden kept the drive alive on a run around right end and a pass to Hardy with just under three minutes to play. Carden handed off to Tay Cooper who advanced the football to the seven yard line. But three straight Marshall stops limited ECU to a Warren Harvey 27-yard field goal to close to 24-10 at intermission.
Cato was 7 of 15 with one interception, 141 yards and a touchdown. Tommy Shuler hauled in five catches for Marshall for 119 yards and Essray Taliferro rushed for 118 yards on just 12 carries. Marshall had 293 yards of total offense in the first half to ECU's 202.
Carden completed 19 of 30 for 150 in the first half for ECU. Isaiah Jones made six of those catches for 86 yards while inside receiver Justin Hardy had five grabs and 42 yards through the first two quarters.
Marshall's Deondre Reaves ran the opening kickoff of the second half to the 47 yard line. Cato hit A.J. Leggett for nine yards to keep the drive alive on third down. Then Devon Smith picked up 14 on a catch to make it first and goal from the ECU ten yard line. On second down, Adonis Armstrong was called for pass interference. The ball was placed on the three-yard line where Devan Johnson ran it in to make it 31-10 Marshall less than four minutes into the second half.
Cooper took a shovel pass and on the next play willed ECU into position as the Pirates tried to find a way to generate some second half momentum. On third down Justin Hardy was interfered with by Marshall defensive back Corey Tindal to keep the drive alive.
ECU backup running back Breon Allen then got in the act with two solid runs to the Marshall nine yard line. On third and goal from the four yard line, Cam Worthy dropped a slant pass over the middle. ECU opted on fourth down to bring on Warren Harvey for a 26-yard field goal to cut the Herd lead to 31-13 at the 9:22 mark of the third.
Marshall defensive end Gary Thompson picked off a Carden pass at the line of scrimmage with just under eight minutes to play in the third for a ten yard touchdown to extend the Herd lead to 38-13.
With 5:11 to go, Carden scrambled left, pointed ahead for a block from Justin Hardy and lumbered into the endzone for a seven yard touchdown. Warren Harvey's PAT made it 38-20.
Cato struck again just over a minute later finding wide receiver Devin Johnson for a 52-yard scoring strike for a 45-20 lead.
Marshall scored again after a Gator Hoskins catch kept the drive alive.
A pass interference penalty on ECU led to a Steward Butler 14-yard score as Marshall extended their lead to 52-20 in the first minute of the fourth period.
Carden threw his third interception of the day when Zico Pasut mistimed a catch over the middle and tapped it up in the air where it was picked off by Marshall's Taj Letman with 12:40 to play in the fourth.
Things didn't get any easier when Cato danced into the endzone for 12 yards and a another Marshall touchdown with 2:53 left for a 59-20 lead.
ECU scored late in the fourth quarter on a two-yard Vintavious Cooper touchdown. The Pirates went for the two-point conversion where Carden found Bryce Williams to cut the Marshall lead to 58-28 with 1:32 to go.