The fans that stuck around for Thanksgiving break to watch the Pirates were certainly in for a treat. The Pirates 65-59 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd was the highest scoring game in Conference USA history.
There was 1,188 yards of total offense in the game, including an edge-of-your-seat double overtime affair. There was 124 points scored in just about every way possible. It was a blowout, turned into a dogfight. When all was said and done, the game could be summed up in two words: Instant classic.
With less than ten seconds left remaining in the game, the Pirates offense faced a third and goal from Marshall’s six–yard line, down 52-45. ECU quarterback Shane Carden dropped back, waited, and found Danny Webster for the touchdown with four seconds left to force the Pirates first overtime of the year in Dowdy-Ficklen stadium.
"I got a feeling before the play in the huddle [that the ball was coming to me]," Webster said. "I went up and he gave me a great ball. It was in the spot where I was the only person who could catch it. I just went up and got it."
ECU would get the ball first in overtime, and Carden connected with Andrew Bodenheimer on the first play for a 25-yard touchdown. Marshall would respond with a touchdown of its own, with backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel hitting Antavious Wilson for a four-yard score to tie the game at 59 points each.
In the second overtime, the Pirates wouldn’t let Marshall drive again. On the second play, running back Essray Taliaferro took the hand off and was stripped by ECU’s Chrishon Rose. Pirate linebacker Derrell Johnson recovered and the game was now in ECU’s hands, which needed any points at all to win the game.
Vintavious Cooper took three carries to gain 24 yards, putting the Pirates on the one-yard line looking at six instead of just a field goal. A play later, Carden scored on a quarterback sneak to win the game.
The game ended with several Pirates having career nights. Carden finished 38-47 for a school record 439 yards and three touchdowns (he also had three rushing touchdowns). Wide receiver Justin Hardy set the school record with 16 receptions, for a total of 171 yards. He finished the season with 1,046 yards receiving, the first since Dwayne Harris in 2010.
Hardy wasn’t the only player to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. Cooper, who had 14 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns, eclipsed the 1,000-yard season rushing total (he finished with 1030 yards). Cooper is the first running back to do so since Dominique Lindsay in 2009.
"I feel like it is an accomplishment for the whole offense because it is rare that you have a 1,000-yard rusher,” said Cooper. “I am excited about [that] for myself and my offensive line."
In the game’s opening quarter, it was Marshall who struck first. Starting quarterback Rakeem Cato threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson to take a 7-0 lead. From there, the Pirates went on a 28-0 nothing run.
First, Carden hit Jabril Soloman for a 59-yard strike. Then Carden ran one in from a yard out. Cooper scored on a nine-yard run and Carden ran another in, this time a three-yard score. That score came with 12:10 left in the second quarter and the rout was on, or so it seemed.
But Marshall began to show signs of line. Cato hit Tommy Schuler for a 24-yard touchdown to pull within two scores. ECU responded with a one-yard Cooper touchdown to push their lead to 35-14. And that’s when things got interesting.
Marshall, courtesy of three more Cato passing touchdowns, would tie the game at 35 with 11:06 to go in the third quarter. Cato hit Wilson with an eight-yard pass (4:50 in the second quarter), Schuler for 19-yards (with just 26 seconds in the half) and then Wilson again from two yards out on the Herd’s first drive of the third quarter.
The Pirates responded with a Reggie Bullock five-yard touchdown run to go up 42-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
After a foot injury to Cato, Frohnapfel came in to lead the Thundering Herd to 10 points on two drives, taking a 45-42 lead following a 24-yard field goal and a 51-yard Frohnapfel touchdown run.
It looked as if Marshall was going to take control from here, but a highlight reel interception by Pirate safety Damon Magazu gave ECU the ball in Marshall territory. Warren Harvey kicked a 39-yard field goal to tie the game at 45.
With 1:55 remaining in the game, Marshall scored on a one-yard run by Taliaferro. That set the Pirates up for their last second heroics and an overtime win that will be talked about for years. But it was Carden who put it most simply:
“That was one of the craziest games I have ever been a part of."