CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the stat sheet, the performance Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato put together in the Thundering Herd's 45-34 win over Tulsa was, in many ways, one of 2012 vintage, stacked with jaw-dropping numbers.
Yet, in other ways, what Cato did against the Golden Hurricane was completely different.
It wasn't just the 456 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner, that he threw at H.A. Chapman Stadium. It was the calm he showed on the sidelines and on the field, even as the Herd (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA) literally tried to hand the game away to Tulsa. That poise, Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said, was something that wasn't always there for Cato in seasons past.
"That's where he's matured so much," Holliday said. "And you guys have seen him grow up before your own eyes like I have. There's no doubt that, as a freshman, he wouldn't have handled it very well. And even sometimes as a sophomore.
"But he's matured and he's grown up," he continued. "He had a couple of mistakes of his own that he overcame and, at the end of the day, he led us down to win the game. He's done that a couple of times now."
It looked as though Cato would put the game away early, throwing three first-quarter touchdowns, one each to Tommy Shuler, Devon Smith and Gator Hoskins. In the game's first 15 minutes, he had thrown for 206 yards. The 244 yards the Herd gained were the most in any quarter this season.
"We were just taking what they gave us," Cato said. "Guys were making plays out there and doing what we do best."
It was Cato's one mistake of that quarter, though, that kept the Golden Hurricane (2-8, 1-5 C-USA) alive. He threw the first red-zone interception of his collegiate career with less than 30 seconds left in the first quarter, on first and goal from the Tulsa 9. The Golden Hurricane responded with a 93-yard touchdown drive that turned what could have been a four-touchdown lead into a two-touchdown advantage.
That was all Tulsa needed to climb back into the contest. After falling behind 21-0, the Golden Hurricane took a 34-31 lead in the fourth quarter thanks to a host of Marshall turnovers. The Herd committed five in all, and TU turned three of them in the third quarter into 17 points.
"We didn't run the ball as well as we'd like," Holliday said. "At times we ran the ball well. Tulsa did a nice job moving people around and sticking some linebackers in the A and B gaps and creating some issues for us. When we did run the ball well, we put it on the ground."
This was not a game the Herd wanted to give away. Marshall played that contest on the anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Herd players, coaches, staff and supporters. The team wore helmets with the number 75 on the left side in their honor. Also, Marshall needed the win to stay neck and neck with East Carolina for the C-USA East Division lead and move closer to a Nov. 29 showdown that could decide who plays for the conference title.
In past seasons, this was the scenario where Cato might let his competitive fire burn out of control, where he might let his emotions get the best of him. On Thursday, though, he remained calm and supportive of his teammates. He had been named a captain for the Tulsa game and wanted to show everyone that Holliday made the right decision.
"I told everybody to just go back to your fundamentals," Cato said. "It wasn't necessarily that they were stopping us. We were stopping ourselves. I told everybody to take a deep breath, go back to your fundamentals and everything would be all right."