A Legacy is Realized
Marshall lost those games at home to Ohio and Tulsa. The Herd ended the season one game under .500 and missed a bowl game.
He would have other issues in his career, both before and after those games. He struggled on the road in a monsoon at UCF, and was benched for A.J. Graham. Then he beat Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater on the road with two touchdown passes, to the most unlikely of players, Jazz King and C.J. Crawford.
Two years later, Cato was the senior leader. He had broken every passing record held by Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, he had went on the road and beaten Louisville, but he hadn’t had that one game that he could hang his hat on. That one game in which legends were made.
This past Saturday, Marshall went into battle with Louisiana Tech for the CUSA championship. The Herd lost last season in the same game, and was on a one game losing streak which snapped the undefeated season. How would Cato and the Herd battle back.
Early on, it didn’t look good. Marshall fell behind 10 – 0, and then 17 – 7. The rain was bad, the wind was strong, and the temperatures were dropping. Cato had balls going all over the field, he started 2 for 9, and the Herd had not scored.
Marshall never could quite get the lead, finally pulling to within 17 to 16, only to see the Bulldogs go back up 23 – 16. Finally, trailing late in the game 23 to 19, the defense held once again and gave Cato the ball back with enough time left on the clock.
Cato began the attack with passes to Tommy Shuler, then one to Hyleck Foster. Another one to Deontay McManus, before finally getting to second and goal from the five. Cato rolled out, and found McManus again in the corner of the endzone for the game winning touchdown.
This wasn’t just the pass to win the CUSA title, this was the past to rid Cato of all those past ghosts, of finally getting the win that he strived for for so many years. Cato would throw one more pass on the day, a first down conversion to seal the game to Ryan Yuracheck. He would end the night 25 for 46 for 308 yards and two touchdowns, both to McManus.
Cato has been an emotional roller coaster since his arrival from Liberty City, in Miami. His outbursts drew the ire of the coaching staff, teammates and fans, but he grew up. That last drive showed just how much. Typically, after every score, Cato would celebrate like a good hearted kid. He would sprint to the end of the field, and let the stadium know that he was pumped.
This play was different. The entire drive, Cato was confident, never getting onto a lineman, or wide receiver, or anyone. After the touchdown pass, the one that would prove his legacy valid, he simply turned and trotted off the field. His face was stone, no smile, his eyes were calm. Not until after the game did he let loose. The kid had finally grown up, and what a great time to show it, in front of a national audience and a cold rain soaked throng of hard core Herd fans.
With the victory, Marshall gained its first conference title since winning the Mid American Conference on the same field 12 years ago against Toledo. In that game, senior all everything quarterback Byron Leftwich led the Herd back to a 49 to 45 win, Cato would end his home career with a 26 to 23 win, and a CUSA championship hat on his head.
Cato has always worn his heart on his sleeve. He would always leave the stadium last after wins and losses and seldom received much fan fare. After the ECU game on the road in 2012, a game in which he was injured and still nearly led Marshall to win, he fought to hold back tears under the stadium as the team boarded the bus. He was over heard hugging a fan, and apologizing for the loss, saying he was sorry for letting every one down. Why? Because that was just Rakeem Cato. Very few got to know Cato while he was here, but he will not soon be forgotten.
As the goal post left the stadium and headed to the steel mill, and then the cemetery, the legend of Rakeem Cato would stay behind, forever a part of “The Joan.”