Cato kept his cool vs. Memphis last year
HUNTINGTON - Marshall's football program has seen adversity with Memphis on the other side of the ball.
Serious, dire adversity.
Think back to last November, on a cold Thursday night at an eerily empty Liberty Bowl. The Thundering Herd arrived with a 4-6 record and no margin of error, and proceeded to err and err. When Rakeem Cato's fumble on a sack was returned for a Tiger touchdown, the Herd trailed 22-10 with 11:22 left in the game.
Marshall's only realistic option at quarterback at the time, Cato was sent back out to lead a season-saving comeback. A loss would have clinched a losing season, but such a loss to the 2-7 Tigers would have aggravated matters.
But Cato kept his cool and the Herd stormed back for a 23-22 victory. Actually, the comeback wasn't that dramatic, as the Herd needed just 5 minutes, 12 seconds to get those two touchdowns, and the defense then protected the lead over three Memphis possessions.
Cato knows he received a lot of help. When he came back on the field after the fumble, he did so at the Memphis 21-yard line after a long kickoff return, and handed off to Travon Van for an immediate touchdown run.
"We had a great running game," Cato recalled. "Tron [Martinez] and Travon, they ran the ball great, and the defense played really great."
Still, Cato completed one third-down pass on the go-ahead drive and, more important, signaled to his teammates that he had moved past his freshman difficulties. He led the Herd to a bowl-clinching victory over East Carolina the following week, and then to a win over Florida International in the bowl game.
"He handled it well. That was one of the great games he played," said receiver Tommy Shuler. "He was down, came out and got some drives together, got the offense moving, came out with the victory at a place where no one was, was quiet. That was a great turnaround."
As another November beckons, Marshall faces a new round of adversity after a 54-17 loss to Central Florida, as it faces another struggling Memphis team. Kickoff is 2 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium between the Tigers (1-7 overall, 1-3 Conference USA) and the Herd (3-5, 2-2).
Another facet of Marshall's game last year at Memphis was this: It came after the Herd's worst game of the season, a 59-17 disaster at Tulsa. Correspondingly, this Memphis game comes on the heels of one of the Herd's worst home games ever, against UCF.
On the Monday after, several Herd players acknowledged it was hard to pick up the pieces, but all say they wanted to get back to work.
"It was a bad feeling to go from being able to control your destiny to not be in control," said defensive end Jeremiah Taylor. "It wasn't a good feeling. Yesterday, we came out, watched the film, corrected the mistakes and today focused on Memphis."
Arguably, much of the Herd's focus needs to be inward, as it was last November in the last 11 minutes at the Liberty Bowl. Cato thinks he knows the way.
"We've just got to stick together and not think about negative stuff and think positive, knowing we can get these next three games to be bowl-eligible," Cato said. "I've played a lot of football, and you never know what's going to happen. We put ourselves in this depth, and we've got to get ourselves out of this depth."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.