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Updated: Thursday, December 19, 2002 2:27 AM EST
NCAA FOOTBALL RECAP
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(24) Marshall 38, Louisville 15
MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD
Marshall Thundering Herd
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LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Louisville Cardinals
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MOBILE, Alabama (Ticker) -- Byron Leftwich did nothing to shake the notion that he should be a top-five selection in the NFL draft.

Leftwich closed out his college career by throwing for 249 yards and four touchdowns as 24th-ranked Marshall captured the GMAC Bowl with a 38-15 victory over Dave Ragone and Louisville.

The game was billed as a showdown between Leftwich and Ragone, two of the nation's best passers. Leftwich, still plagued by shin problems, had the upper hand with his strong right arm, despite giving way to backup Stan Hill for one series in the first half.

"On one leg, he is better than anyone else in the country," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said.

The defeat for Louisville came amid speculation that coach John L. Smith would leave for Michigan State. Cardinals athletic director Tim Jurich admitted at halftime that he was contacted by Michigan State AD Ron Mason, and Jurich gave Mason permission to talk to Smith.

"I want to apologize to the guys, some things got out that hurt us," Smith said. "I don't know if that was the case or not."

Ragone indicated that word got out at halftime that Smith was leaving and it hurt the team's performance.

Marshall (11-2) took the lead on an eight-play, 76-yard drive that Leftwich capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Denero Marriott, who had 10 catches for 137 yards and a pair of scores.

A 24-yard field goal made it 10-0 and a fumble by Louisville running back Lionel Gates was recovered by defensive back Yancey Satterwhite at the Cardinals 24-yard line. Leftwich took advantage with a nine-yard TD toss to Demetrius Doss to make it 17-0 with just under 10 minutes left before halftime.

"It's about coming down here and winning this ballgame," Leftwich said. "Doing what you can do to win the game. I think we played pretty dominant today on both sides of the ball. We had a lot of fun out there."

Ragone struggled for Louisville (7-6), completing 20-of-45 passes for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His lone TD was an 11-yard pass to Tiger Jones with 13 seconds left.

"It was tough," Ragone said. "Give it to Marshall, they gave us some different looks. I just wasn't completing the ball like I wanted to when I had the time."

The Thundering Herd won a bowl game for the fifth straight season. Last year, Leftwich threw for 576 yards and four TDs as Marshall rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit for a 64-61 double-overtime victory over East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl.

Now Leftwich is getting ready to play in the NFL.

"I'm just going to be happy to play on that level," Leftwich said. "For me, it's a dream. It hasn't come true yet. If they had an NFL team in Alaska and they took me, I'd be over there playing for them."

The Cardinals cut their deficit to 17-7 on a three-yard TD run by T.J. Patterson with 5:16 left in the first half. Patterson had just 19 yards rushing as Louisville managed only 56 on the ground.

Louisville got the kickoff to open the second half, but a pair of penalties stalled its drive. Marshall took over at its 46, and Doss had a 13-yard TD catch after a beautiful 24-yard pass from Leftwich to Marriott.

The Thundering Herd used a 10-play, 80-yard drive to start the fourth quarter, taking a 31-7 lead on Marriott's 26-yard TD reception. Leftwich was 5-of-7 for 63 yards on the drive.

"Byron has done a great job all year of identifying blitzes and the pressure of every team that we have played," Pruett said. "The offensive line has done a great job all year."

A fumble by Ragone was recovered by Marshall defensive end Jonathan Goddard on the Louisville 29. After a personal foul penalty moved Marshall closer, Franklin Wallace scored on a 16-yard run for the Herd's final touchdown.

Ragone was on the run for most of the game and was sacked three times. Known as much for his scrambling ability as for his left arm, Ragone was Louisville's leading rusher with 31 yards on nine carries.

"I want to congratulate Marshall," Smith said. "They are a tremendous football team and they deserved to win. They got after us."


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