The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl was billed as a mid-major Super Bowl between Marshall and Northern Illinois.
Just like the February edition of the real thing at the NFL level, Tuesday night's matchup was a blowout in a contest that never seemed close, with the team donning green and white holding up a trophy at the end of the game.
The stakes for the Boca Raton Bowl were considerably lower, of course, but Marshall's 52-23 triumph over the MAC champion capped off a terrific 13-1 season for the program and allowed prolific quarterback Rakeem Cato to go out in style not too far from where he was once one of South Florida's brightest stars at the high school level.
Cato (6-foot-1, 176 pounds) has drawn questions from scouts about his viability at the next level, given his height and arm strength, but there's little arguing with the numbers he put up in the team's spread offense. Cato moved into a tie for fourth all-time in the FBS in career touchdown passes, tossing three Tuesday to finish his career with 131. Already the school's all-time leading passer, Cato also threw for 281 yards and added two more scores on the ground.
Cato finished with 40 touchdown passes this season, a new Marshall record.
Cato naturally got into rhythm early and often with his favorite target, receiver Tommy Shuler, who finished with 18 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown, with a host of acrobatic receptions sprinkled throughout the game. Cato and Shuler have been playing pitch-and-catch since they were kids and turned into undervalued stars who won state titles at Miami Central just down the highway from FAU Football Stadium. They very likely played their final game together as teammates, but each will attempt to make the difficult journey to the NFL starting next month.
Shuler ended his career with 321 career receptions, a Conference USA record.
Marshall's underrated running back, Devon Johnson, also played well, looking healthy for the first time in a few games and grinding out 131 yards and a touchdown.
The Huskies were able to move the ball behind a fairly balanced attack led by quarterback Drew Hare and tailback Cameron Stingily but came up short in the red zone drive after drive as the Marshall defense bended but didn't break.
The night, however, served as a fantastic farewell to one of college football's all-time great passers in Cato and capped off a historic year for the Thundering Herd, who stated their case as one of the best non-Power 5 teams in the 2014 season.