Boca Raton, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Rakeem Cato finished off his illustrious career at Marshall by leading his team to a win in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.
Cato threw for 281 yards with three touchdowns and also rushed for two scores in the Thundering Herd's 52-23 win over Northern Illinois.
"I was out there playing football, trying to execute the calls the best I can," Cato said.
The Miami Central High School product continued his stellar play for Marshall (13-1) and pushed his NCAA-record streak of games with a touchdown pass to 46 straight.
"That's just him, when he's on the biggest of stages he rallies," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said of Cato. "I've won national titles and I've been around a lot of future NFL quarterbacks and he's the most competitive quarterback I've ever coached."
Tommy Shuler, Cato's longtime friend and teammate at Miami Central, hauled in 18 passes for 185 yards and a score, while Deon-Tay McManus and Angelo Jean- Louis had a touchdown grab apiece in the win. Shuler ended his career with 321 catches, a Conference USA record.
"(Shuler's) a good player," Holliday added. "He's one of the best receivers I've coached because he's got that it factor."
Devon Johnson rumbled his way to 131 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown for the Herd, who bounced back from their lone loss of the season against Western Kentucky to win the Conference USA championship game before their lopsided win on Tuesday.
Drew Hare went 15-of-27 through the air for 225 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies (11-3). He also added 50 yards on the ground.
Cameron Stingily rushed for a score and Christian Hagan went 3-of-4 on his field goal attempts in the loss.
"I told the seniors, great season, bad game," Huskies coach Rod Carey said according to the team's website. "It was a terrible ending, but this game doesn't overshadow the season or take away the MAC Championship."
A pass interference penalty set up the first score of the game, a 19-yard pitch-and-catch from Hare to Juwan Brescacin. It was the 10th straight game Northern Illinois scored first.
Deandre Reaves got it right back, though, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a score.
Marshall got the ball back at the NIU 42 after a three-and-out for the Huskies. Shuler made three catches for 38 yards on the drive before Cato took a quarterback keeper and rushed for a 5-yard TD to give the Thundering Herd a 14-7 lead with under four minutes to play in the opening quarter.
The Huskies moved deep into Marshall territory on the following drive, but Hagan missed a 32-yard field goal attempt,
Johnson flipped the field with a 47-yard run to the NIU 14 which led to Justin Haig's 28-yard field goal.
Northern Illinois again moved the ball into its opponents' territory, but Joel Bouagnon was stuffed on three straight plays from inside the 5 to set up a 19- yard field goal from Hagan that summed up NIU's night in the red zone.
Marshall went 6-for-6 on its red zone opportunities and the Huskies converted 4-of-5 chances, but Hagan was the beneficiary of most of those trips.
Shuler's 42-yard catch-and-run on the Thundering Herd's next touch preceded Johnson's 2-yard TD run two plays later for a 24-10 margin.
Hagan booted a 30-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the half to cut the deficit to 24-13 at the break.
The Huskies recovered an onside kick to begin the second half and moved the ball to midfield prior to turning it over on downs.
Shuler hauled in a 6-yard TD from Cato later in the third to push the margin to 31-13.
"We just give a head non and he knows I have his back and to throw me the ball," Shuler said of his relationship with Cato.
NIU answered with two big plays. On the fourth play of the march, Hare hooked up with Aregeros Turner for a 30-yard gain, then Stingily rushed for a 24-yard score on the following play.
Marshall continued to move the ball as Cato capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive with an 11-yard TD toss to Jean-Louis to regain an 18-point cushion with two minutes left in the third. Cato put the game away early in the fourth with a 27-yard yard TD strike to McManus.
The Huskies moved into the red zone and settled for yet another field goal from Hagan, then Cato capped the scoring and his career with a 4-yard TD run.
Shuler entered the game needing three receptions to set the school record, breaking Josh Davis' mark of 306 set from 2001-04. He also moved into fourth on Marshall's all-time receiving yards list, passing Randy Moss (3,467) ... This was the only bowl that featured two conference champions ... Marshall has won three straight in the series ... The Herd had a 505-425 advantage in total yards ... Bouagnon rushed for 82 yards in the loss.