HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There was no need for last-second heroics in Friday's edition of the Marshall-East Carolina football clash. There was no need for extra time to decide the game, as has been necessary the last two years. The contest was in hand long before the final whistle blew.
And the Thundering Herd walked out of Joan C. Edwards Stadium as the Conference USA East Division champion.
Behind a career-high 161 yards from running back Essray Taliaferro – which pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season – and a defense that hassled ECU quarterback Shane Carden for most of the game, the Herd pounded the Pirates, 59-20, to catapult Marshall (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) into next week's conference championship game.
"Without a doubt, and I've told you all along, I've felt this team has gotten better every week," said Marshall Coach Doc Holliday, who has never lost at home in November. "That's what good teams do, and there's no doubt in my mind that we went out there and played our best football game today."
Now the Herd waits to learn its opponent for and the site of next Saturday's game. Two games Saturday will decide the West Division champion – Rice versus Tulane and Louisiana Tech versus the University of Texas at San Antonio. If Rice wins, it wins the West. If Tulane wins and UTSA loses, Tulane wins the West. If UTSA and Tulane both win, UTSA wins the West.
The Herd is guaranteed to host Tulane or UTSA, because it holds better conference records than both teams. If Rice wins the West, the Owls and Herd would finish with the same 7-1 conference record and, because he teams didn't play this year, the host team for the title game would be decided by BCS ranking.
"We'll probably take a look at a couple of different teams," Holliday said of the 24 hours in between the Herd's game and Saturday's games. "We've already played San Antonio, so we've already got a pretty good bead on them. We'll do what coaches do. We'll come in and go to work, see who we play and come back Sunday."
The Herd jumped out to a 24-0 lead on a 42-yard Justin Haig field goal, a two-yard Devon Johnson run and Rakeem Cato's four-yard touchdown scramble and three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gator Hoskins. After doing most of its damage through the air in last season's double-overtime loss to ECU (9-3, 6-2 C-USA) Marshall gouged the Pirates on the ground. On top of the big-back package the Herd ran with Johnson, normally a tight end, and offensive lineman Blake Brooks as a blocking back, Taliaferro continued his dominance of ECU.
The senior had his breakout game last season versus the Pirates, gaining 130 yards in the season finale. On Friday, he slashed through the ECU defense early, averaged 6.2 yards a carry and finished the game with 1,006 yards for the season. He's the first 1,000-yard Herd running back since Darius Marshall rushed for 1,131 yards in 2009.
"It's definitely a great individual accomplishment, along with a great team accomplishment of winning the East," Taliaferro said. "I'm definitely proud of myself. I'm thankful for the o-line and for (Offensive Coordinator Bill Legg) to have trust in me."