Northern Illinois loses to Marshall 52-23 in Boca Raton Bowl
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — The Boca Raton Bowl had been over for less than an hour, and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey was already thinking about how his team would bounce back.
The Huskies couldn’t stop the passing combination of Rakeem Cato to Tommy Shuler and lost Tuesday to Marshall, 52-23.
“This leaves a really bad taste in our mouth,” Carey said. “What we came here to do, we did not get done. That will stick with us here, and we’re going to have use that going into next year.”
Northern Illinois made 25 first downs, gained 425 yards and had an edge in time of possession. But the Huskies struggled in the red zone, and Cato connected with Shuler on 18 completions for 185 yards and a score.
“They did a good job of moving the ball and staying on the field,” Huskies safety Dechane Durante said. “They were able to convert on third downs, and Cato made the plays when he needed to.”
Cato tied an NCAA mark for touchdown passes, threw for three scores and was voted the most valuable player. Shuler broke the Conference USA record for career catches with 322.
Cato and Shuler were high school teammates in nearby Miami, and they gave a large throng of family and friends plenty to cheer about.
“I think we had the things in to stop them; I don’t think we executed them at times,” Carey said. “We stopped them but not enough times. They’re good players.”
Marshall finished 13-1, with its lone loss to Western Kentucky, 67-66 in overtime. Northern Illinois finished 11-3.
“Give credit to Marshall; they made a ton of plays,” Carey said. “I didn’t think we played real well, and that’s too bad because we’ve had an unbelievable season. One game doesn’t take away what we’ve accomplished.”
Cato extended his streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass to 46 consecutive games. That tied the NCAA all-division record set by Central Washington’s Mike Reilly.
As usual, Cato’s favorite target was Shuler.
“Anybody who knows Shuler, against a man-to-man matchup, he’s going to hurt you,” Cato said. “I’m going to continue to go at him until they show me something different, and they didn’t show me anything different.”
Cato finished the season with a school-record 40 touchdown passes. He threw for scores of 6 yards to Shuler, 11 yards to Angelo Jean-Louis and 27 yards to Deon-Tay McManus.
All of those touchdowns came in the second half. Cato completed 25 of 37 passes for 281 yards and ran 5 yards for a score.
The game drew a crowd of less than 15,000 in Florida Atlantic’s 30,000-seat stadium, but both coaches praised the inaugural event.
“This will be a huge bowl,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “The community has embraced this bowl, and when all is said and done, it’s going to be one of the best bowls in America.”
Marshall tried a bit of trickery early in the game, when Shuler took the ball and lobbed it into the end zone to Cato for an 11-yard touchdown. But the play was negated by a penalty.
“If Tommy wouldn’t have made such a bad pass, we would’ve had it,” Holliday said with a grin.
The tandem did better with Cato throwing. All seven of his completions in the first half went to Shuler.
“He made tough catches and easy catches and made people miss,” Carey said.
The Huskies’ Drew Hare threw for 225 yards and a score, and they added 200 on the ground. They outgained Marshall in the first half but trailed 24-13 because they settled for field goal tries three times and missed one.
Northern Illinois pulled off a successful onside kick to start the second half but lost the ball four plays later when Arnold Blackmon stopped Cameron Stingily for no gain on fourth and 1 at midfield.
The Thundering Herd mounted touchdown drives of 56, 68 and 70 yards on consecutive possessions in the second half to lead 38-20.