EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the more astonishing scenes in the history of Marshall football took place after the Thundering Herd defeated Ball State 42-16 on Sept. 27, 1997, in Muncie, Indiana. Cardinals fans by the dozens rushed to the rail nearest the Marshall locker room to ask for autographs from the visiting team.
Those fans knew they had witnessed something special as Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, Doug Chapman and the rest of the Herd had easily dispatched the defending Mid-American Conference champion.
Here is a condensed version of the original game story from that day:
MUNCIE, Ind. — Marshall proved it’s for real Saturday thanks to some “unreal” performances by Thundering Herd quarterback Chad Pennington and wide receiver Randy Moss.
Pennington threw six touchdown passes, including five to Moss, to lead Marshall to a 42-16 rout of defending Mid-American Conference champion Ball State in front of 20,415 at Ball State Stadium.
“That was unreal,” said Cardinals cornerback Raphael Ball, who was unmercifully left in single coverage on Moss for much of the day. “Just unreal.”
Pennington, whose 1,206 passing yards entering the game led the nation, completed 27 of 35 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns. Moss caught a career-high 13 passes for 205 yards and five TDs.
Pennington’s six TD passes set a school record, breaking the mark of five he shared with Tony Petersen, John Gregory, Michael Payton and Todd Donnan. It also tied the MAC record set by Bowling Green’s Ryan Henry in 1994.
Moss’ five TDs broke the school record set by himself (on three occasions) and Troy Brown. It also broke the MAC record of four shared by Ball State’s Rick Morrison (against Eastern Michigan in 1977) and Andy Schillinger of Miami of Ohio (against Central Michigan in 1986).
The victory improved the Herd to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the MAC, allowing Marshall to remain tied for first place in the MAC’s East Division with Bowling Green and Ohio.
“This shows where we are and how we measure up,” Herd defensive tackle Dewayne Lewis said. “This improves our chances in the MAC. To win against a good team like this shows something.”
The Cardinals fell to 1-4 and 0-2.
“They’re an excellent football team,” Ball State coach Bill Lynch said. “They’re exactly what we expected.”
The final score is somewhat deceiving. Ball State trailed just 21-16 with five minutes left in the third quarter when Marshall defensive end B.J. Cohen intercepted a Jake Josetti pass and returned it 6 yards to the Cardinals’ 19. Two plays later, Pennington threw 8 yards to Moss for a touchdown that began the blowout.
Pennington hit Moss with touchdown passes of 19 and 3 yards to set the final score.
“I just give Randy a ball he can go get,” Pennington said. “I let him use his speed. If he doesn’t get it, he doesn’t blame me, he blames himself. I just try not to underthrow him.”
Marshall struck early, scoring on its second possession when Pennington threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Moss to make it 6-0. The same duo hooked up at 7:03 of the first quarter on a 15-yard scoring pass set up by Jimmy Parker’s recovery of a Josetti fumble at the Ball State 34.
Ball State’s Brent Lockilear kicked a 31-yard field goal to make it 14-3, but Marshall responded with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Pennington to LaVorn Colclough to make it 21-3.
Ball State refused to quit, driving 99 yards in 15 plays, with LeAndre Moore running two yards through the left side for a touchdown to make it 21-10.
Three plays later, Pennington was sacked and fumbled. The Cardinals’ Jason Arnold recovered at the Herd 21 and, on the next play, Moore scored to make it 21-16 at halftime.
Ball State was driving for the go-ahead score on its first possession of the third quarter, moving from its own 24 to the Marshall 34 in five plays before Herd cornerback Larry Moore intercepted a pass at the 11.
Cohen intercepted Josetti’s pass on the next drive to set up Marshall’s late scoring spree.
Josetti, who completed 7 of 17 passes for 96 yards with two interceptions, was sacked by cornerback Damone Williams with 2:53 left in the third quarter. Lewis recovered and had an apparent touchdown nullified by a clipping penalty. Still, it took only two plays for Pennington to hit Moss with a 19-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-16.
Marshall used an 11-play, 73-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard Pennington-to-Moss pass to score its final touchdown with 10:07 to play.
Lynch was second-guessed over his decision to single-cover Moss. The Cardinals’ strength is at linebacker and the linebackers remained on the field, even in obvious passing situations. Pennington, Moss and Colclough took advantage.
“Randy’s pretty tough one-on-one,” Marshall coach Bobby Pruett said. “If you’re going to cover the best player in college football one-on-one, if you don’t throw to him then you need to get Kojak on your detective team to find out what’s wrong. I told their defensive back not to feel bad. I don’t know of anyone in America who can cover Randy one-on-one.”
Pennington said it was a simple case of taking what the defense gave him.
“We knew they had a really strong set of linebackers,” Pennington said. “They did a good job stopping our run in short-yardage situations. We knew we had to mix it up. In single coverage, we don’t care who’s covering him, we’re going to give Randy a chance to catch the ball.”
Marshall has an open date Saturday and next plays Oct. 11 against Akron at home in a MAC East game.
Lynch said Akron’s defense will be in for a real test.
“Moss’ all-around athletic ability is incredible,” Lynch said. “He’s tall, he’s fast, he can jump. Nobody in America is going to stop him. Say anything you want about Randy Moss and I’ll agree. He’s a great player. He’s phenomenal.”