Dec. 23, 2014
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BOCA RATON, Fla. - In a game held less than an hour away from their hometown, seniors Rakeem Cato (Miami) and Tommy Shuler (Miami), ignited the high-powered Marshall offense one final time.
The Herd became the first champions of the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida Tuesday evening after a dominating 52-23 win over Northern Illinois. The game featured 19 seniors who played their final game for the Thundering Herd.
Marshall finished its season with a 13-1 record (7-1 C-USA), while NIU fell to 11-3 (7-1 MAC).
NIU started the scoring on its second possession with a seven-play, 67 yard scoring march with the culmination coming with Juwan Brescacin hauling in a strike from quarterback Drew Hare and turning up field for a 19-yard touchdown.
The lead lasted exactly 14 seconds; redshirt junior Deandre Reaves (Sterling, Va.) returned his first touchdown of the season, speeding 93 yards into the Huskies' end zone for the equalizer. The touchdown was Marshall's first kick-return TD since 2010 and the sixth longest in Herd history.
Just three plays later, the MU offense returned to the field and used just two minutes and 12 seconds to tack on another seven points. Quarterback Cato finished off a five play, 42 yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run. The drive saw him connect with longtime teammate Shuler three times, the last one placing Shuler first in Marshall history for receptions.
Marshall continued to control the half, taking advantage of a missed NIU field goal attempt to begin the second quarter. The Herd added to its lead with another three points, courtesy of senior Justin Haig (Delray Beach, Fla.). The 28-yarder was Haig's 42nd of his career, tying him for second all-time in the Marshall record books.
The Huskies responded with a 10-play, 64 yard drive but the Herd defense forced another field-goal attempt, this time good- cutting the Marshall lead to 17-10.
After another two minute drive featuring six plays, the Herd added seven to the scoreboard off of junior Devon Johnson's (Richlands, Va.) run to go up 24-10. The scoring drive featured a 13-yard run from Cato and allowed Shuler to turn in his 12th 100 yard receiving game of his career.
With under ten seconds remaining in the half, Marshall's defense forced another NIU field goal as the Herd took a 24-13 lead into the locker room.
The second half began scoreless until 10:49 in, when Marshall began a nine play, 56-yard scoring drive to add insurance and build its lead to 31-13. Cato connected with his favorite target of the night, as Shuler picked up his then eighth catch of the game. The duo's activity marked Cato's 46th consecutive game with a touchdown pass, an FBS record he broke earlier this season.
The Huskies' quickly responded, using just 1:49 and five plays to score its second touchdown of the game; a 24-yard rush from redshirt senior Cameron Stingily.
A quick response from Cato and crew resulted in the Herd increasing its gap once more; an 11-yard catch from Cato to redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis (Wellington, Fla.) brought the score to 38-20.
Marshall turned right around and pinned another seven to the scoreboard; this time Cato hit awaiting target in redshirt freshman Deon-Tay McManus (Baltimore, Md.).
After another NIU field goal from kicker Christian Hagan, Cato danced into the end zone on a four-yard rush, intensifying the Marshall gap to 52-23 with 4:10 remaining in the game.
Cato's run was the Herd's final touchdown of the 2014 season, capping a remarkable career in the kelly green and white. He finished the game at 25-37 with 281 yards, three passing touchdowns, two rushing TDs, and no interceptions. Shuler turned in 18 catches for 185 yards with one touchdown.
ADDITIONAL NOTEWORTHY ITEMS
Â· - Marshall is now 9-2 in bowl games with an .818 bowl winning percentage, the best in FBS history.
Â· - It is Marshall's fourth straight bowl win, dating back to 2010's Little Caesar's Bowl. The victory marks back-to-back wins for the Herd, and its third win in four years. (Marshall did not participate in a bowl game in 2012.)
Â· - The bowl was the only game outside of the College Football Playoff bowl games (Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl) to feature two conference champions.
-The Herd donned special decals on its helmets; the initials 'SJK' for late President Stephen J. Kopp who died from a sudden illness earlier this week, and the number 10 in honor of late Elwood Pennington, the father of former MU quarterback great Chad Pennington (whose uniform number at Marshall was 10). Ellwood Pennington died Dec. 15.
Â· - With 8:45 to go in the third quarter, redshirt senior center Chris Jasperse (Greensboro, N.C.) recorded his 4,000th snap. Jasperse made his record-setting 53rd consecutive start; only two players in major-college history have made more consecutive starts.
Â· - Haig now holds the single-season record for kick points at 132, and is tied for first with Tim Openlander (1996) for single-season PATs with 82.
Â· - With his 18 catches, Shuler now has a season total of 92. He becomes the first player in Herd history to turn in three seasons with at least 80 catches. No other player has had more than one 80-catch season.
Â· - Johnson recorded his 10th 100-yard rushing game of the season. That ties the Marshall record set three times by Chris Parker (1993, '94, '95). Those were Division I-AA seasons, so Johnson has the school's major-college record. Johnson finished the game with 131 rushing yards.
Â· -With 5:15 to go in the game, Shuler became the all-time leader in Conference USA with 321 career receptions.