EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an original sidebar from Marshall’s victory over Western Michigan in the 1999 Mid-America Conference championship game:
HUNTINGTON — Marshall football’s secret weapon against Western Michigan turned out to be a first baseman.
Eric Pinkerton, known for his towering home runs for the Thundering Herd baseball team, became the unlikely hero of Marshall’s 34-30 victory over Western Michigan on Friday, catching the winning 1-yard touchdown pass with 4 seconds left.
Pinkerton’s catch gave the Herd its third consecutive Mid-American Conference championship, a 12-0 record and a berth opposite 25th-ranked Brigham Young (8-3) in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 27 in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome.
“We had three options on that play,” said Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington, who threw the winning pass.
“We did a good job on a play fake and he got open. It couldn’t have happened to a better person. That is a fairy tale that it happened to Pinkerton because he has been moved around. Man, I am so happy for him.”
Pinkerton, a 6-foot-2, 238-pound senior from Sissonville, W.Va., capped Marshall’s comeback from a 23-0 deficit. One of the more likable players on the team, Pinkerton began his career at linebacker, moved to fullback, then to tight end.
Pinkerton, nicknamed “Old Pink” by Marshall coach Bobby Pruett, said he never was discouraged even when the Herd trailed 23-0 midway through the third quarter.
“I knew our offense could put up 21, 28 points easy,” Pennington said. “We needed to step up and play and let things roll.”
Pinkerton, who had two catches for 13 yards this season, made his first career touchdown reception among the more-memorable plays in Herd history. He’s usually in the game for his ability to block, so that’s why Pinkerton’s presence at the goal line helped coax Western Michigan into lining up to stop the run.
“You can either stop one or the other,” Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell said of the run and the pass. “With their physical difference — we average 243 pounds per man on the defensive line and they average over 300 — I thought they’d run like they did the play before.”
Marshall didn’t run. It sent three receivers to various depths in the right side of the end zone. Pennington took the snap, made a short drop and fired the ball to Pinkerton, who was wide open.
Marshall coach Bobby Pruett was thrilled for Pinkerton.
“He’s a tough guy,” Pruett said. “He’s a great guy. He’s a hard worker.”
Marshall has lost four tight ends to injuries since spring practice, necessitating Pinkerton’s position switch.
“He does catch the ball well and he likes to run into people,” Pruett said.
Pinkerton said he sensed the game turning Marshall’s way when it scored its first touchdown to pull within 23-7.
“We got that first score and then we put up two more real quick,” Pinkerton said. “Our offense is so explosive. We can score at anytime.”
Even with 4 seconds left and the first baseman lined up at tight end.