PONTIAC, Michigan (Ticker) -- Marshall proved it had every right to be in the Motor City Bowl for a fourth straight year.
Byron Leftwich threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the Thundering Herd scored 13 points in the third quarter and defeated Cincinnati, 25-14, for their third straight Motor City Bowl triumph.
"This young football team set the tone for next season," said Marshall coach Bob Pruett. "This game shows the strength of the Mid-American Conference."
Marshall (8-5) earned the automatic bowl berth by winning the Mid-American Conference title game while Toledo (10-1), one of the winningest teams in all of college football, missed the bowl season altogether. Marshall's mediocre record even has Motor City Bowl officials considering the possibility of resincinding the automatic bid in the future.
But that was not a concern today for Marshall, which completed its late-season surge by winning for the sixth time in seven games. After losing the inaugural Motor City Bowl to Mississippi, the Herd had wins over Louisville and BYU before today's triumph.
Chad Pennington engineered the first two Motor City wins and gave way this year to Leftwich, who completed 17-of-30 passes for 221 yards.
"One guy doesn't make a football team," Pruett added. "We've won 58 games in five years. One or two guys don't do that and we've done it in a tough league. We belonged in this bowl, we belonged in a lot of bowls."
DeMarco McClesky had a pair of short touchdown runs for Cincinnati (7-5), which had a four-game winning streak snapped.
"This was a turn-around season for our team," Cincinnati coach Rick Minter said. "This loss can't diminish that. It's just a set-back, not a killer to the program."
"They ran for the ball very well and made the plays," McClesky said.
The Thundering Herd did their scoring early in each half, producing touchdowns on their first possession of the game and the initial two of the third quarter.
"In the first half, I was too anxious," Leftwich said. "I decided to come out in the second half and make plays. In the first half, I was so juiced up. I wanted to make every play a touchdown."
Trailing 14-9, Marshall took over at the Cincinnati 41 following a short punt early in the third quarter. Leftwich capitalized with a 30-yard pass to Nate Poole and scored two plays later on a one-yard run for a 15-14 lead.
Leftwich engineered another TD on Marshall's next drive, rushing for 15 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that led to a four-yard TD run by Franklin Wallace, who carried 20 times for 78 yards.
Marshall held off several fourth-quarter threats by the Bearcats. One ended on an interception by Danny Derricott and another was thrwarted when Chris Crocker broke up a fourth-down pass from Deontey Kenner, who completed just 19-of-39 passes for 189 yards and was picked off twice.
J.R. Jenkins kicked a 25-yard field goal with 43 seconds left for the final margin.
"We were in shape," said Derricott. "They had their heads down and were subbing a lot. Our two-minute drill wore them down. We stopped them a couple of times when they were on offense and their defense didn't have time to adjust. And we blitzed from everywhere."
Marshall struck first when Darius Watts caught a pass from Leftwich over the middle and raced 77 yards for a TD just 2:12 into the game.
"We knew if we could get the safety to bite, Darius could run past the corner," Leftwich said. "Once you get the ball in that guy's hands, not many people can catch him."
The Bearcats responded with a nine-play, 67-yard TD drive that ended with a two-yard TD run by McCleksey.
Marshall regained the lead at 9-7 on a safety late in the first quarter. Michael Owens tackled Ray Jackson in the end zone soon after the Bearcats were pinned deep in their territory on a punt.
The only score of the second quarter was a two-yard TD run by McCleskey around left end on fourth-and-inches with 1:44 left. Cincinnati took over at the Marshall 21 when Leftwich was sacked by linebacker Antonio Davis and fumbled.
The Bearcats missed a chance to add to their halftime lead when they botched a snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt by Jonathan Ruffin.
The sloppy game included 25 penalties for 190 yards.
"I think the penalties killed us," Kenner said. "It's hard to make first downs when you're going backward. I took a couple of sacks. We couldn't afford negative plays but we had them."
The competition will get even stiffer the next time around for Marshall. The 2001 season opener is at Florida on September 1.