HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In the past two seasons, the Marshall-East Carolina football clash has been filled with flashy catches, big comebacks and extra action. Some, like ECU quarterback Shane Carden, can't put his finger on a particular reason for those wild games.
"I don't know why," he said. "I don't know what it is, but I expect another really good game this weekend."
Others, like Marshall tight end Gator Hoskins, think they have it figured out.
"The last couple years, we've been playing for something," he said. "Two years ago, we were playing for a bowl game. Last year, we were playing for a bowl game. Playing for something, you're not just going out there and playing another game."
The stakes are even higher in this year's clash, kicking off at noon today on CBS Sports Network. The winner of this game earns Conference USA's East Division title and a berth in the next week's conference championship game. It would be ECU's first title game appearance since 2009. It would be Marshall's first title game appearance since joining the conference and first title game overall since beating Toledo for the Mid-American Conference crown in 2002.
This matchup between the Herd (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) and the Pirates (9-2, 6-1 C-USA) has been meaningful and memorable the last two seasons. The 2011 contest was a postseason knockout game, both teams entering Joan C. Edwards Stadium that day at 5-6.
Marshall prevailed on its home turf in a 34-27 overtime thriller that also gave spectators Aaron Dobson's signature touchdown catch, a leaping, diving, one-handed, back-handed snag that tied the game in the second half. The Herd went on to win its second bowl game in three seasons, beating Florida International in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
Dobson caught the first touchdown of last season's game, a falling grab in the end zone that opened the floodgates for the Pirates' 65-59 double-overtime win that saw 1,188 yards gained 124 points scored.
The Herd fell behind 28-7 in the second quarter of that game and lost quarterback Rakeem Cato late to a knee injury. But backup Blake Frohnapfel's 51-yard run with 11:12 in regulation gave the Herd its first lead since 7-0.
Then, Essray Taliaferro's touchdown with 1:55 left in the fourth looked like it could be the decider. But ECU converted a fourth-and-10 on its own 24 to keep a drive alive that ended in a six-yard touchdown pass from Carden to Danny Webster with four seconds left and forced overtime. Taliaferro fumbled the ball away on the first drive of the second overtime, and Carden's one-yard touchdown run ended the Herd's season with a 5-7 record.