MIAMI — Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato joked last Monday that his dream scenario for his first touchdown pass against Florida International — the one that would set the major college record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass — would be a 99-yard throw to freshman backup tight end Ryan Yurachek.
Cato’s prediction fell about 98 yards short.
The record-setting touchdown was just a 1-yarder, but it still went to Yurachek, the first of four Cato scoring throws in the 25th-ranked Thundering Herd football team’s 45-13 blowout at FIU.
That first touchdown, the culmination of a four-play, 74-yard drive, gave Cato a touchdown pass in 39 consecutive games. Cato had been tied with former North Carolina State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at 38 in a row.
“That’s a record, guys, that may never be broken,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “And if any guy deserves it, he does. I was happy when he got it, and I think it took a little bit of heat off of him.”
Cato finally admitted after the game that he felt a little of that heat. It’s not just that he was on the cusp of solely owning a national passing mark. It was that he had that chance in front of an army of family, friends and mentors in his home town. Cato won a Class 6A state championship at Miami Central and ended his high school career as Dade County’s all-time leading passer.
Marshall QB Rakeem Cato set the FBS record for most consecutive games with a passing TD, 39. pic.twitter.com/fmoFWXmotW
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 19, 2014
It might have played a part in the Herd stalling out on its first two drives. He completed just three of eight passes on those drives for 22 yards. Yet Marshall got no deeper than FIU’s 43 on either drive and punted on both.
“Once I threw the touchdown, I knew that it was back to normal,” he said. “I could run the offense again and just keep focused. It was a lot of pressure taken off me. I knew how much I wanted it and I knew how much my teammates wanted it for me. I just came out and just executed the play.”
Cato said that the play to Yurachek wasn’t even one that was in the Herd playbook.
“I knew that play was going to work,” Cato said. “It’s a play we don’t have in our system. We know it. The whole offense knows it and when that play is called, we just know what to do.”
Once Cato got that play out of his system, the scoring floodgates for him opened wide. His four touchdown passes against the Panthers marked his second four-touchdown game of the season — Ohio was his first — and the ninth game of his Herd career where he’s thrown at least four. He tossed for 214 yards on 15 of 27 passing and threw one interception.
Besides Yurachek, two of those touchdown passes went to running back Devon Johnson and another went to fellow Miami native Angelo Jean-Louis. Cato’s best friend, senior slot receiver Tommy Shuler, didn’t take part in Marshall’s touchdown parade. He caught two passes for 20 yards. But he made sure to be the first person to congratulate Cato after he set the record.
“That’s my brother and I’m happy for him,” Shuler said. “He deserves every bit of it. He works so hard in practice and it comes out and shows on the field.”
|MARSHALL CAREER PASSING LEADERS|
That he could set the mark in front of so many friends and family members made it even more special. There were nieces and nephews. There were coaches who worked with him from youth leagues through high school. There were familiar faces and ones he hadn’t seen in a while. Yet they all arrived to cheer Cato to a national record.
“For those guys just to be here, I was shocked,” Cato said. “I’m still shocked to see tons of family members come to watch what I’ve been doing throughout my college career. I’ve seen faces I ain’t seen in four years, since I’ve been in high school.”
Cato’s passing day allowed him to reach a few more milestones. He has been responsible for 122 touchdowns in his Marshall career, 110 passing and 12 rushing, which broke Chad Pennington’s record of 119. He passed Wilson in another category, too. The current Seattle Seahawks quarterback had thrown 109 career FBS touchdown passes. Cato also is second in Marshall history in career passing yards. His 12,088 so far put him ahead of Byron Leftwich (11,903) but still behind Pennington (13,143).
The number Cato feels is most crucial is the zero Marshall still sports in the loss column. While individual records are reasons to be proud, he wants to keep the Herd undefeated for as long as possible.
“I just want to continue doing my best job and just continue making everybody who supported me smile, make the Herd family proud and continue getting W’s.”