BOCA RATON, Fla. - It seems like such a benign little statistical tidbit: Rakeem Cato has thrown for more than 1,500 yards in three consecutive seasons.
So what? Shouldn't every starting Marshall quarterback throw for 1,500 in season? Half a season? Two games? Before halftime of the season opener?
But, as the MU stat gurus told us, there are only four throwers in school history top 1,500 yards, then do it again and again. The other three?
Michael Payton, Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich.
Nice little list, eh?
OK, let's toss that tidbit away. You know the real link between those three, right? Give them the ball with two minutes left and the opposition is doomed. Timeouts are not needed.
The 1992 Division I-AA championship game? Payton. The 1999 Mid-American Conference championship? Pennington. The 2002 Miracle in Mobile? Leftwich.
Saturday night on the picturesque Florida Atlantic campus, Cato began his campaign to join this list. With a few head-turning big plays, he engineered the game-winning drive in the final 2:06, allowing Justin Haig to boot the Thundering Herd to a 24-23 victory over the Owls.
Cato has won 14 of his starts in a green jersey, and he has rallied the Herd to four wins in the fourth quarter - two in two-minute drills that ended in Haig field goals. (Houston, 2012 is the other.)
But this one stands it all sorts of ways, good, bad and ugly.
The bad? Oh, let's just skip to the ugly - as in Cato's performance in the first 50 minutes.
After watching the Miami native develop pinpoint accuracy over two-plus seasons, it was horrifying to watch him miss everything high and/or wide. I mean everything - of all those errant throws, I don't recall a single short-hopper.
It was crazy. Cato relinquished the all-time lead in completion percentage, (CHECK), was off the rails. Was it the adrenaline from playing in south Florida in front of his peeps? Was it underestimation of an unfamiliar, oft-disrespected opponent? Both, and more?
Whatever it was, the Herd was in a world of hurt. Cato's first three throws of the fourth quarter were an overthrown bomb to Devon "Moo Moo" Smith, a hurried misfire to Tommy Shuler and a what-the-heck-was-that sideline fling in Davonte Allen's general direction.
After the punt, FAU drove 64 yards in seven plays to take a 23-14 lead with 10:01 left. At that point, Cato was 11 of 23 for 110 yards and was lucky to have just one interception. (Then again, he overthrew the defenders, too.)
Marshall was teetering on the edge of doom in one of those "uh, oh" games. If you bet the Herd with the 12-point spread, you were throwing you money on the floor - and it wasn't like you weren't warned.
"I keep telling you guys all the time, if you're located right here in Boca and you've got three stadiums [where] you can go out and look out at the beach, you'll have pretty good players [if] you do your job."
I got the message, Doc, even picking you to lose. In four decades of watching MU football from multiple perspectives, I've seen this show before.
But like his predecessors, Cato threw out the script.
Believe this about Cato: He doesn't worry about the last throw, or the 20 before that. He doesn't necessarily have that "ice water in the veins" thing; he just runs the next play. Again, it's a byproduct of his Liberty City upbringing - he just doesn't feel pressure on the gridiron.
"Positive, as always," he said. "Every time I go on the field I go with a positive mindset. Just so happened it was the last drive, do it all for Marshall, do it all for the team. That's all I thought about, just go out there and go play hard."
In true Marshall tradition, this drive from the 9-yard line was one long test of will, with a dash of craziness. Cato's first act to notice an acre of unoccupied Bermuda grass and run for 20 yards.
Oh, yeah, he threw that forward toss to Shuler. We've come to expect at least one silly play a game from Cato, and that qualifies. Good thing he got credit for his yardage to the penalty flag.