Cato, Herd hammer Catamounts
HUNTINGTON — Before Saturday’s contest, Marshall University quarterback Rakeem Cato had heard so much about quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen’s games against Western Carolina that he wanted to put on his own show.
Cato threw for 280 of his 377 yards in the first half and finished with three touchdown passes to lead Marshall to a 52-24 victory over Western Carolina in front of 25,317 fans in the football home opener for the Herd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“He (Petersen) was preaching it all week — I did this, I did that,” Cato said. “He even showed us some film of them. Me and Blake (Frohnapfel) just tried to get together and do what he did.”
With the win, Marshall evened its record at 1-1 this season and improved to 83-24-5 all-time in home openers. The Herd is now 128-22 all-time at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which turned 21 years old on Friday.
Marshall’s offense continued to put up impressive numbers that eclipsed milestones dating back to the 2003 season.
The Thundering Herd finished with 615 yards of total offense, putting them past the 600-yard mark for the first time since piling up 604 yards against Kent State on Oct. 11, 2003.
Combined with last week’s game at West Virginia (545 yards), it was also the first time Marshall had back-to-back 500-yard performances since 2003 against Western Michigan (543, Oct. 25, 2003) and Akron (573, Nov. 1, 2003).
“The No. 1 stat that concerns me offensively is don’t turn it over,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “That didn’t happen today. It was good.”
The matchup featured a battle of old Southern Conference foes, as well as the return of Western Carolina quarterback Eddie Sullivan, who spent the last two years at Marshall.
Sullivan had a productive day for the Catamounts, finishing 19 of 40 through the air for 191 yards while rushing for 50 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Eddie’s a competitor,” Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir said. “He plays hard and he wanted to win tonight, obviously, for a lot of reasons. We’ll go look at the film, but I thought he did a nice job.”
Western Carolina cut the lead to 24-10 when Sullivan hit Jacoby Mitchell on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 10:27 left in the third quarter.
However, the Herd answered with 21 straight points to put the game out of reach.
Steward Butler and Remi Watson both notched the first touchdown runs of their careers in the third quarter. Butler scored on an 8-yard jaunt with 6:59 left before Watson bulled in on a 3-yard run with 2:12 to go in the quarter.
Marshall linebacker Devin Arrington intercepted Sullivan on a screen pass and returned it 17 yards to put the score 45-10 at the end of the third quarter.
“It was just a screen and I saw the running back coming,” Arrington said. “He overthrew him and I took it in. It happened so fast, I almost didn’t realize it was there for me to get.”
After a slow start that produced a 3-0 lead at the end of one quarter, Cato and the Herd offense found the end zone often in the second quarter.
Cato finished the second quarter 12 of 14 for 135 yards and three touchdowns as the Herd took a 24-3 lead to the locker room.
“The first quarter, we were moving the ball pretty well, but we just didn’t finish because we had some negative plays and some penalties that hurt us,” Holliday said. “I thought after that first quarter, Cato settled down, made good decisions and we move the ball pretty well.”
Marshall’s first touchdown drive featured the emergence of running backs Kevin Grooms and Butler. The tandem combined for 69 of 82 yards before Cato used play-action on a goal-line set to hit Gator Hoskins on a 1-yard scoring pass with 14:07 left in the half.
From there, the floodgates opened a bit and Cato spread the wealth between his receivers.
Cato’s next drive consisted of completions of 11, 14 and 32 before he hit Aaron Dobson for a 2-yard score on fourth down to increase the lead.
Following a three-and-out for Western Carolina, Cato hit five different receivers on a drive that culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Evans.
Western Carolina ended the half with a 40-yard field goal by Richard Sigmon to get on the board.
Herd quarterback Blake Frohnapfel had a special moment in the fourth quarter, throwing the first touchdown pass of his career to his brother, tight end Eric Frohnapfel. The 29-yard touchdown pass ended the scoring for Marshall.
In all, Marshall threw for 430 yards and four scores between Cato and Frohnapfel. Antavious Wilson led the Herd with 98 yards receiving while Dobson added nine catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Tommy Shuler also had six catches for 79 yards.
The Herd returns to action Saturday when Ohio University (2-0) comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.