But the Herd defense held one last time, stopping two conservative runs and forcing Johnson to throw a third-down incompletion. After Sean Kelly bounced his punt out at the 9-yard line, the Herd faced a 91-yard march with 2:09 left and no timeouts.
Cato made the march work, but may have made it too exciting. His first act was to escape the pocket and dash for 20 yards and then pitch it to Tommy Shuler. Forward.
The damage was small, as the Herd still had a first down after the 5-yard penalty. On the next set of downs, Cato pulled a borderline miracle in escaping a sack and converting a third-and-1.
The next play was a masterpiece, a 35-yard bomb to Smith, playing the "X" receiver at 5-foot-7 pretty much out of necessity. Smith ducked under his taller defender and made the catch at the FAU 26.
"I saw the pass was kind of short [Cato said he was going for the back shoulder], so I knew at the last minute, 'OK, he'll overplay. I'll jump up and get the ball before he even thinks of looking back for it.' And that's what I did."
The Herd ran twice and ran the clock down as much as possible before Cato spiked it and the field goal team came out. FAU tried to "melt" Haig - "ice" is a misnomer in perpetually humid south Florida - calling two timeouts.
Haig made his kick and, in a mild surprise, the Herd took an early lead in the East Division standings. Division favorite East Carolina stumbled at the Superdome, losing 36-33 in triple overtime to Tulane.
With the Herd up 7-3 at the half, FAU forged ahead 10-7 on its first possession of the third quarter, with Jonathan Wallace running it in from 2 yards. Kevin Grooms answered for Marshall with a 1-yard run for a 14-10 advantage, but FAU retook the lead on the Johnson-to-Nexon Dorvilus pass, and held it for the next 15:22.
After Marshall roared back, it wasn't enough.
In a rough first half, the Herd couldn't get much of anything going, compiling just 93 total yards and six first downs. The three tailbacks - Steward Butler didn't make the trip on a coach's decision - combined for 25 yards on 13 carries.
Cato wasn't great, either, going 6 of 14 for 57 yards and a first-play pick that put the Owls on the Marshall 27. Marshall's defense bailed him out, stopping the Owls and forcing the missed field goal.
The Herd had a scoring drive brewing in the second quarter, but Remi Watson was stuffed on fourth-and-inches.
FAU was its own worst enemy at times, dropping several balls. That included a drop in the end zone by Dorvilus on the late scoring drive. A rushed incompletion forced the Owls to kick a 26-yard field goal, with Anderson breaking a six-miss streak.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.