7:00 PM ET, September 12, 2003
Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Bruce Gradkowski accomplished in his third career start what only one other quarterback has done since 1996 -- beat Marshall at home.
Gradkowski threw two touchdown passes and reserve Astin Martin scored on a 10-yard run with 1:10 to play to give Toledo a 24-17 victory over the Thundering Herd on Friday night.
The game between the only teams to win the Mid-American Conference championship the past six seasons meant little in the standings since they are from different divisions.
Yet this was a statement game for Toledo (2-1), which beat Marshall (1-2) for the third time in four years.
The Rockets are the only team with more than one win over Marshall since the Thundering Herd returned to the league in 1997.
Marshall is 50-2 at home since Bob Pruett became coach seven years ago. Western Michigan beat the Thundering Herd in 2000.
"It's tough to come up with a win for anybody in this stadium," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "Marshall has a lot of tradition and pride. We also had to match their enthusiasm and pride. It's just believing in ourselves and getting the job done."
Marshall self-destructed with five turnovers in quarterback Graham Gochneaur's first start. Toledo had none.
"The defense kept us in it and we are thankful for that," Gradkowski said. "Every year it is back and forth, back and forth."
The young quarterbacks made this one of the lowest-scoring contests in the teams' seven previous meetings. They had averaged 85 points combined in their previous two games.
The last time Marshall was held to this few points was a 49-14 loss to Florida in the 2001 season opener.
Gradkowski, a sophomore, was erratic but came up big down the stretch. He took the Rockets downfield after Toledo's Paul Dye recovered a fumble by Butchie Wallace at the Rockets 44 with 6:41 left.
Gradkowski converted a fourth-down run at the Marshall 29. Sophomore Trinity Dawson, who led all rushers with 156 yards, ran for 17 on the next three plays before Martin, another sophomore, scored untouched.
"When we needed it, it counted," said Gradkowski, who finished 10-of-20 for 147 yards.
Marshall, which beat Toledo in the 2002 MAC title game on Darius Watts' last-minute touchdown catch, couldn't come up big in the closing seconds this time.
Marshall moved the ball to the Toledo 47, but a holding call negated a pass from Gochneaur to Watts. Gochneaur's desperation pass on the final play was intercepted by Patrick Body at the Toledo 11.
Gochneaur, a junior, fared well in place of the injured Stan Hill but couldn't produce any points over the game's final 20 minutes.
"Graham played well enough for us to win," Pruett said. "I thought he did a good job. He was put in some tough situations. You can't turn the ball over five times against a good football team and win."
Gochneaur finished 31-of-39 for 289 yards with two interceptions. His 11-yard scramble set up a 22-yard TD pass to a wide-open Watts for a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter.
"It was simply a game of missed opportunities," Gochneaur said. "I finally started to get comfortable and everything started to feel real fluid. Unfortunately, we stopped ourselves when we got the momentum going."
Hill did not dress for the game after injuring his knee last week in a 34-24 loss at Tennessee. He's also questionable for Marshall's game next week at No. 7 Kansas State.
After Watts' score, Toledo nearly squandered Dawson's 58-yard run on the next series. Gradkowski recovered Martin's fumble on third down, and Jason Robbins kicked a 37-yard field goal to tie the score at 17.