Marshall preserved its perfect season and clinched its only chance at a bowl trip with one of the greatest comebacks in school history.

Chad Pennington threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Eric Pinkerton with four seconds left and No. 11 Marshall rallied from a 23-point deficit in the second half, defeating Western Michigan, 34-30, tonight in the Mid-American Conference championship game.

The victory gave the Thundering Herd (12-0) its third consecutive MAC title and sent them to the Motor City Bowl, where they will play BYU (8-3) on Dec. 27. A loss likely would have left Marshall out of postseason play.

"This was a total team effort," Pennington said. "There was never any doubt we could come back."

Pennington's 100th career touchdown pass gave Marshall its 16th straight win, the longest streak in Division I-A.

Western Michigan (7-5) lost for the second time to Marshall in three weeks and failed in its bid for its first MAC title since 1988.

Down 30-27, Marshall got the ball back one last time with 3 minutes 9 seconds left at its 26. Pennington, who completed 20 of 31 passes for 284 yards, hit James Williams for a first down on fourth and five.

On the next play, Pennington scrambled down the left sideline for a 33-yard gain and Western Michigan was called for a late hit, putting the ball at the Broncos 14 with 51 seconds left.

After two short running plays by Doug Chapman, Pennington threw to Williams down to the 1 and Pennington spiked the ball on the next play to stop the clock with 15 seconds left.

After a Pennington sneak went for no gain, Marshall took its final timeout. Pennington then rolled to his right and threw to Pinkerton, who made his second career reception and scored his first touchdown.

Marshall trailed 20-0 at halftime and gave up a field goal early in the second half.

Marshall's 34-point onslaught in the second half was nearly as stunning as its self-destruction in the first half, when it gained just 133 total yards and was held scoreless for the first time in four seasons.

"At halftime we went in and I told our offense and our coaches that we were going to come and go no-huddle, try to change the tempo of the game and get our crowd back in the game," Marshall Coach Bob Pruett said.

Led by Pennington and Chapman, the Thundering Herd scored four touchdowns in an 8:20 span of the second half. Chapman, who earlier had a 24-yard touchdown run, scored from two yards out with 12:36 left in the game for Marshall's first lead, 27-23.

Summary on Page D12


Big 12 Championship Game

No. 3 Nebraska (10-1) vs. No. 12 Texas (9-3)

Location: Alamodome, San Antonio.

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., WJLA-7, WMAR-2.

Data: The Cornhuskers' Sugar Bowl hopes took a major blow last week when No. 2 Virginia Tech routed Boston College to finish the regular season undefeated and when they squandered a big lead and needed overtime to defeat Colorado, which missed a game-winning field goal try at the end of regulation. Now, even a blowout victory over the Longhorns probably won't get the Cornhuskers into the national championship game; the Hokies' lead in the Bowl Championship Series rankings probably is insurmountable. So, the winner of this game probably will go to the Fiesta Bowl to face Tennessee, and the loser probably will go to the Cotton Bowl. Texas QB Major Applewhite has recovered from the intestinal virus that sidelined him for most of last week's loss to Texas A&M and will start. Nebraska has revenge on its mind. The Longhorns have won the teams' past three meetings, including a game Oct. 23 in Austin that damaged Nebraska's Sugar Bowl hopes. The Cornhuskers have an astounding 18 fumbles in the past two games (eight lost) and 47 for the season (23 lost). Texas's offense gets a lot of attention now that it passes a lot, but the Longhorns' defense is ranked seventh in the nation, allowing 286.5 yards per game. Nebraska's defense is fifth nationally, allowing 259 yards per game.

SEC Championship Game

No. 5 Florida (9-2) vs. No. 7 Alabama (9-2)

Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta.

Time, TV: 8 p.m., WJLA-7, WMAR-2.

Data: The winner probably will go to the Orange Bowl; the loser will go to the Citrus Bowl. Florida and Alabama seem to have found a permanent home in the SEC title game -- they have met in four of the seven games. In the teams' regular season meeting Oct. 2, Alabama took advantage of a missed extra point try by Florida PK Jeff Chandler to win, 40-39, in overtime. Alabama RB Shaun Alexander had 200 yards of total offense in that contest and is just now recovered from a high ankle sprain that ended his Heisman Trophy hopes. Both teams have something of a quarterback controversy. Tyler Watts and Andrew Zow have evenly split practice repetitions since Watts, a redshirt freshman, led a comeback win against Auburn on Nov. 20. Florida Coach Steve Spurrier still hasn't decided whether Doug Johnson or Jesse Palmer will start, but he said both probably will play. Alabama has held its past four opponents to 17 points or less, and Florida hasn't scored more than 23 points since a 30-14 victory over Georgia on Oct. 30.