Cato keeps his cool
HUNTINGTON -- The evolution of Rakeem Cato from a quarterback to a football team leader took a sharp turn upward this week.
It wasn't his 33 completions into a tricky wind Thursday night at Tulsa.
It wasn't his career-high 456 passing yards or his career-high tying five touchdowns.
Instead, it was all about the mental side of the game.
Marshall University's junior quarterback has been a starting player since he was a true freshman. He's always been a quarterback that played on his emotions and used them at motivation.
However, his lack of emotions Thursday night helped keep his team calm through second-half adversity before he led what proved to be the game-winning touchdown drive in the Thundering Herd's 45-34 victory over the Golden Hurricane.
Wide receiver Tommy Shuler, who caught the winning 18-yard score from Cato, said it had a lot to do with Cato being named as a game captain.
"He took the captain role serious," Shuler said. "He kept the bench calm, he never got frustrated and he went out there and took us to win the game."
Cato said it wasn't easy watching the offense stop itself with four fumbles that kept the team scoreless for more than 26 minutes in the second half.
He harnessed the strength from within along the sideline before going to encourage his teammates and keep them in the game mentally, Cato said.
"When I'm by myself, I talk to myself and meditate and just keep a cool head at all times and let my fundamentals take care of everything, listen to what (Marshall offensive coordinator and quarterback) Coach (Bill) Legg has to say and follow the gameplan," Cato said.
Marshall (7-3 for the season and 5-1 in Conference USA) quickly jumped to a 21-0 lead then watched as a 17-point halftime lead turned into a 34-31 deficit in the fourth quarter. A sequence of six offensive possessions ended with four fumbles and two punts for the Herd.
But, with 4:51 remaining Cato went to work.
He hit Shuler on a 3rd-and-8 for 19 yards to move the team into the red zone. Next, he lofted one of his better touch passes of the season to Shuler for an 18-yard touchdown. Shuler caught the ball at the sideline and back-pedaled into the end zone.
"It was a deep out route and I felt Shu had got over top of the slot defender," Cato said. "I just put a little air under the ball and Shu made the catch to get into the end zone."
Shuler said the praise on the play went to Cato for his touch on a difficult throw, which involved putting it over the defender with enough juice on it so the wind wouldn't float it out-of-bounds or into a line where the safety could make a play.
"The whole day I had been rushing my routes," Shuler said. "I was rushing trying to get to the ball, but I told myself to be patient on the last one. As soon as I rolled off Moo (wide receiver Devon Smith), I knew I should be getting the ball and he put it right in the pocket.
"I knew Cato would come through in the clutch. I know he never has pressure. Those are the things he likes to do. He likes to compete."
In each of Marshall's last three road games the Herd scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter to help overcome deficits. Marshall won at Tulsa and Florida Atlantic and was one defensive stop away from winning at Middle Tennessee.
Head coach Doc Holliday and Cato both said it wasn't his best game as a quarterback. Despite the career-high in yardage and equaling his career-high in touchdowns, there were some off-target throws in a 33-for-58 passing performance -- including a few that would have been big gainers and possible touchdowns.
However, his ability to make plays down the stretch was the difference.
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