Sept. 2, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
MORGANTOWN – Maybe it was the pregame on-field meeting and hug with former Marshall great and retired NFL quarterback Chad Pennington.
Perhaps it was the maturity gained and full-year’s grasp of the Thundering Herd offense.
Maybe it was the fact that his cross-field rival was Miami buddy and Heisman Trophy candidate Geno Smith.
Whatever, in an otherwise very dim day for Marshall football at Mountaineer Field on Saturday, sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato’s performance delivered something bright – and much more than promise -- for the Herd.
In No. 11 West Virginia’s 69-34 rout of Marshall in the last scheduled Friends of Coal Bowl, Cato established Marshall’s regular-season record for completion in a single game on a 38-for-54 afternoon, with two touchdowns. He threw for 413 of the Herd’s 545 yards.
“He did a really good job,” Marshall senior wide receiver Aaron Dobson said of his quarterback. “He moved the offense, spread the ball around. He kept things moving.”
Cato’s 38 completions erased the Herd regular-season record of 37 set by Byron Leftwich in a 2001 Mid-American Conference victory at Buffalo. At the end of that season, Leftwich set the overall Herd mark of 41 completions in the double-overtime GMAC Bowl triumph over East Carolina.
“The coaches told me when I walked into the (locker) room after the game,” Cato said not of his record, but of the Herd’s 545-yard total offense day. “It was like wow, we did our best, over 500 yards on the offensive side of the ball. That’s impressive. But we’ve got to keep going and keep aggressive every day in practice.”
Cato said he was much more comfortable in this Coal Bowl than he was in his collegiate debut as a true freshman at Mountaineer Field a year ago – “third down didn’t get to me anymore,” he said, smiling – and it showed. He completed passes to 14 players – 13 teammates and his only interception, by WVU linebacker Doug Rigg in the fourth quarter.
Cato ran down Rigg for a touchdown-stopping tackle at the Herd 3, but WVU scored on the next play.
“Bad (interception),” Cato said. “I tried to force it.”
He also set the Herd completions standard despite losing his top receiver, Dobson, to a hip pointer during the game. Dobson made four catches for 72 yards, including a 40-yarder, Cato’s longest completion.
Eight wide receivers, three tight ends and two running backs caught passes.
“You always want to do that,” the 6-foot quarterback said of spreading the air game wealth among a baker’s dozen. “Everybody knows we’ve got Dobson and Tay (senior Antavious Wilson had three receptions for 40 yards), but at the same time you want to make sure all of your receivers play, they’re all on the right track, so the coaches and myself trust them on the field.
“All the receivers played, did a great job. A lot of the running backs played. Anytime you have a keeper besides Dobson and Tay, that’s a plus, a big plus.”
Cato’s scoring passes both came late – fourth-quarter completions to his longtime schoolboy buddy, wideout Tommy Shuler (12 yards) and to sophomore tight end Eric Frohnapfel (11 yards). Frohnapfel’s twin, Blake, made his college debut on the last series at quarterback, Cato’s only relief on the day.
The only sack of Cato came in the third quarter, when he was rolling out and “holding, holding it, holding” trying to throw the ball out of bounds when WVU safety Terence Garvin stripped the ball and Mountaineer linebacker Isaiah Bruce recovered and ran for a 43-yard score.
“I never saw him, never felt it,” Cato said of the strip. “It was a good play.”
He was far from satisfied. Asked about the play of the offensive line – Cato’s pass protection was mostly solid, despite the first-quarter loss of right tackle Garrett Scott to a left leg injury – the quarterback didn’t single out his blockers at all.
“They did good, OK,” he said. “Everybody had their ups and downs, everybody did. I did. I turned the ball over twice.”
West Virginia led 20-10, then scored twice in the final 6:25 of the first half for a 34-10 lead. While it seemed improbable the Herd could rally, Cato said he was going to keep chucking it. His second half displayed that.
On a day when Marshall ran 101 offensive plays, Cato was 22-of-30 after halftime for 234 yards.
“Anything is possible at any given time,” Cato said of the halftime deficit. “When we went up the ramp at halftime we were down. I come from a school (Miami Central High) that, when we’re down, we’re ready to come back. I mean … never count ourselves out. I’ve kept that mentality all though my life. So, anytime we’re down, I keep pushing hard, never quit, never give up.”
His counterpart and friend from Miami, the Mountaineers’ Smith, had too much on this day for the Herd – as has been the case in three previous Coal Bowls, too. After the game, the two Miami quarterbacks – both recruited to their schools by Herd Coach Doc Holliday – hugged and spoke.
“We talked,” Cato said. “He told me to keep doing what I’m doing, and I told him he had a great game, and ‘just keep doing what you’ve been doing.’ … He’s a great player. Hopefully, he’ll win the Heisman.”
On a difficult day, Cato showed he can be more than a pretty good QB, too.
“I thought he played well,” Holliday said immediately after the loss. “I think he threw the ball around for over 400 yards, had the one interception, think it was tipped or dropped or that type thing, but overall, I thought he ran the offense well.
“I think he’s getting better as a quarterback, and he made some plays. We’ve just got to continue to do that. There were some positives on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve just got to get better on defense.”