Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Shuler played their last game together as a record-setting duo for the Thundering Herd at the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl, and the childhood friends had a blast at the expense of the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Marshall claimed an impressive 52-23 victory over North Illinois. With the win, Doc Holliday‘s program finished 13-1 this season, while the Huskies have now lost three straight bowl games.
Cato and Shuler essentially played a simple game of pitch and catch during the contest as the Huskies helplessly failed to stop either.
The quarterback finished the contest 25-of-37 passing for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Shuler, meanwhile, caught 18 of those passes for 185 yards and a touchdown.
Both performances set new records.
First, Cato broke his own school record with a new season high in touchdown passes.
Shuler’s aspirations were a little higher than simply setting a new program record. The wide receiver broke a Conference USA career record during his unbelievable performance.
Northern Illinois simply couldn’t match Marshall’s explosive offense, particularly in the second half. While 425 yards of total offense is generally considered an impressive output, it was still 80 yards less than Marshall accumulated. And Marshall could have made it even worse late in the game before pulling back the reins.
As talented as Cato and Shuler are, running back Devon Johnson can’t be overlooked. The 243-pound running back set the tone early with his physical running style. He ended the contest with 131 rushing yards on only 15 carries.
A win in the Boca Raton Bowl may be a bit of a disappointment for the Thundering Herd, who entered the season with bigger aspirations, but Marshall once again proved its one of the finest programs not located in a Power Five conference.
The battle to be the best from the Group of Five conferences stands in favor of the Marshall Thundering Herd. Doc Holliday‘s squad currently leads the Northern Illinois 24-13 at the Boca Raton Bowl.
Northern Illinois continues to be the class of the MAC, but they’ve come up short in bowl games recently. Two years ago, the Huskies earned a trip to the Orange Bowl only to fall 31-10 to the Florida State Seminoles. Last season, Northern Illinois came up short in the Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies.
The Huskies are in position to lose their third straight bowl game.
Of the two programs, Marshall looks like the team ready to take the next step and build a higher national profile.
The Thundering Herd entered the contest with the nation’s No. 1 offense. The one-two punch of quarterback Rakeem Cato and running back Devon Johnson can be very difficult to slow down. Stopping this offense is almost not an option.
Northern Illinois has been successful slowing Cato. The quarterback finished the half 7-of-12 passing for only 106 yards. All seven passes have been completed to wide receiver Tommy Shuler. But Johnson ran wild with 92 yards only eight carries. Both the quarterback and the running back registered a short rushing touchdown.
The Huskies have been successful moving the ball with 275 total yards through two quarters. In fact, Rod Carey‘s squad drove the ball inside the red zone four times. It came away with only one touchdown.
With the second half about to commence, Northern Illinois must finish on offense. The Huskies can’t allow Marshall’s defensive line to control the line of scrimmage. A few drives that result in touchdowns could get the Huskies back into the game. However, it all depends on whether or not Northern Illinois’ defense stop Marshall’s offense or force turnovers.
The Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2) were clearly the best team in the MAC all season and that held true during the MAC Championship Game.
The next question becomes, “Is Northern Illinois the best team among the remaining Group of Five?”
The Huskies dominated the Bowling Green Falcons 51-17 to claim Rod Carey‘s first MAC title as the head coach at Northern Illinois. It’s Northern Illinois’ third title in four years. The lone loss came last year against Bowling Green.
The victory goes beyond another championship and continued dominance within the MAC.
Northern Illinois still has an outside shot at representing the Group of Five with an automatic berth in a New Year’s bowl game. The Huskies were cognizant of their standing and attempted to add some style points with a late touchdown to set a new MAC record.
The Boise State Broncos are currently ranked 22nd overall. However, a loss by Boise State could make Northern Illinois the highest-ranked team from a non-power conference. The Broncos have come up small in big late-season games in prior years, but Boise State faces a 6-6 Fresno State Bulldogs squad in the Mountain West Championship Game Saturday.
A loss by Boise State, and Northern Illinois could once again be playing in a major bowl game. If the Broncos win, the Huskies can take solace in the fact they’re the most dominant team in any conference in college football after five-straight MAC Champoinship Game appearances.
Last season, the nationally-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies were dreaming of a BCS bowl bid as they entered the MAC Championship Game. Those dreams came crashing down around the Huskies as the Bowling Green Falcons secured a 47-27 upset victory to win their first MAC title since 1992.
Northern Illinois learned its lesson, and the Huskies are taking this year’s meeting in the championship game far more seriously.
The Huskies lead the Falcons 20-10 at halftime. But North Illinois head coach Rod Carey isn’t comfortable with the two-score lead as the team’s went to the locker room for the intermission.
“Both offenses can go at any moment,” Carey told ESPN at the end of the second quarter. “It’s tough. It’s been back-and-forth. It’s going to be a fourth quarter game.”
Both offenses already flashed at points in the first two quarters.
Northern Illinois’ Drew Hare opened the scoring on a five-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown. Hare was also 19-of-30 passing for 127 yards and another touchdown pass.
The scoring toss came late in the first half when the Huskies drove 68 yards in 1:06 before Hare found senior tight end Luke Eakes in the corner of the end zone.
The Falcons’ lone touchdown came on a spectacular catch from wide receiver Gehrig Dieter. The sophomore rose above the Huskies cornerback with the safety looming to snag a moonshot thrown by Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke for a 41-yard score.
Bowling Green will likely up the tempo and the intensity during the second half. Northern Illinois has a nice lead, and it’s the more talented squad. A sound second-half effort should be enough to earn the school’s third MAC title in four years.
But one can never truly know what to expect during some weekday MACtion.