HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The first thing to know about Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato's 31-game streak with at least one touchdown pass is this: He started it in coach Doc Holliday's doghouse.
Oh, remember that? Then a true freshman, the Miami native had a meltdown during a 16-6 loss at Central Florida and was sent to the bench in favor of A.J. Graham.
For a brief stretch, it looked as if Graham was going to take the job for good. Then again, Cato never watched an entire game — in the next game against Rice, he entered for two three-and-out series, and they didn't come in mop-up duty. Back to bench.
At Houston the next week, Oct. 22, 2011, he was the janitor. He didn't enter until the Thundering Herd was down 63-21, and his seven-play, 72-yard drive was inconsequential. With 3:35 left in the game, he completed an 8-yard pass to, of all people, Wayne Bonner.
It was Bonner's first, last and only TD reception in a Thundering Herd uniform. Cato, fuzzy as his status was at the time, was just getting started. Neither he nor anybody else knew it at the time.
Cato was just worried about getting his job back.
"Things got real for me," Cato recalled. "Coach made a decision, I had to live with it. Being on the sideline I had to learn from that as a player and as a man."
Cato remained a distant second banana again the next week, when the Herd dismantled Alabama-Birmingham 59-14. Only after Graham flung five TD passes in the game's first 36 minutes did Cato find the field. But he threw his TD pass a little earlier, finding Gator Hoskins for a 34-yard TD on third-and-19.
That came with 10:59 left in the game. Very quietly, the streak went to two games.
Cato regained the starting job for good the next game, though nobody really knew it. Graham was injured trying for a running first down, and Cato's services were needed, albeit with the Herd down 28-3 in a disaster at Tulsa. With the Herd down 49-10, Cato found Aaron Dobson for 31 yards with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
No. 4 in the streak came at Memphis, a 44-yard toss to Antavious Wilson 1:17 into the game. That was forgotten when Cato fumbled his way into a Memphis touchdown, forcing the Herd to rally from down 22-10 to save its bowl hopes.
Cato finally began to look the part again in game No. 5 came against East Carolina, when he threw 77 yards to Dobson on the first play from scrimmage. That wasn't the most-remembered TD catch — it was Cato's lob late in the first half, which Dobson snagged backhanded in that "play of the year" reception.
As it turned out, Cato's last four TD passes of 2011 went to Dobson — those two against ECU, plus 31- and 35-yard tosses to knock out Florida International in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
By then, Cato was the lone healthy quarterback. By summer's end, the job was his by default. He had shown flashes of talent and was learning an up-tempo system all but made just for him, and he felt ready to take off.
But as the 2011 season ended, nobody expected Cato to have done what he has now — he is essentially the Herd's No. 3 quarterback in the appropriate statistical categories behind Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. But he stands alone in one area.
With Marshall preparing to take on Maryland on Friday in the Military Bowl, Cato has thrown one touchdown pass in each of the last 30 games — all those dating back to that mop-up touchdown he threw at Houston 26 months ago.