Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich's mother pleaded with him not to return to the Thundering Herd's game at Akron on Saturday, to rest the left shin that he had injured for the third time in his career. But after spending the second quarter having X-rays at a nearby hospital and with a van waiting to speed him back to the Rubber Bowl for the second half, Leftwich was not about to stay out of the game.
" 'Just trust me, Mom,' " Leftwich said he told her on the sideline. " 'Just be quiet for a second.' "
With his teammates carrying him onto the field and to and from the huddle between plays, Leftwich engineered two touchdown drives, essentially on one leg, but the Herd still fell, 34-20.
"That was a heroic performance," said tackle Steve Sciullo, one of two linemen who carried Leftwich. "If [Heisman Trophy voters] don't see that, they're blind. It proved he's the best player in the country."
Leftwich, an H.D. Woodson product who started the season as a Heisman contender, said yesterday he would "hopefully" return in time for the Nov. 12 game with Miami (Ohio), but "we don't really know the deal yet, so we'll have to see."
His comeback Saturday, though, was highlight-film fare. Realizing he might be able to return in time to help the Herd overcome a 17-point Akron lead and save their bid for a Mid-American Conference title, he begged the trainer to hurry back to the stadium from the hospital.
"Coming back, we broke every rule there was," Leftwich said. "I told him, 'Floor it for me.' He helped me out there. We flew through the city of Akron."
With Leftwich almost immobile by the time he reentered the game early in the third quarter, Marshall still managed to run its hurry-up offense, with teammates carrying Leftwich to the huddle after each play.
After completing a 41-yard pass in the third quarter, "I told them I couldn't make it," Leftwich said.
Sciullo and guard Steve Perretta, seniors who had protected Leftwich for three seasons, hoisted the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Leftwich and trudged downfield. Leftwich completed 14 of 24 passes for 208 yards in the second half.
"We just said, 'Let's get him,' " Sciullo said. "We lifted him up and sprinted down there. He's a big boy. It took a lot out of us."
Leftwich's lower left leg was hit during an incompletion with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter. He managed to complete 5 of 6 passes for 51 yards on a touchdown drive on the Herd's next possession, but Marshall Coach Bob Pruett forced Leftwich to go to a hospital.
When told an ambulance could not guarantee he could return before the end of the game, Leftwich got a Zips trainer to drive him in a van. Leftwich kept his uniform on and clutched his helmet the entire time.
"I know how those things work," Leftwich said. "Once you take those things off, you're pretty much done for the day."
Leftwich had hurt the same shin in his highest-profile game to date, a blowout loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 12. He underwent a minor surgical procedure to correct a stress fracture last spring.
He limped out of the locker room just after halftime and soon was sent back into the game. His teammates mistook the crowd's cheer for a fumble recovery moments earlier.
"We didn't know he had returned to the stadium," Sciullo said. "We looked over and there he was. A bunch of us started tearing up in the huddle."
Leftwich was overcome as well. "It was amazing," he said. "I had never seen those guys cry before."