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Cato shows poise in Herd QB debut

The Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Marshall freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato was efficient and appeared poised beyond his years, making coach Doc Holliday’s decision to start him in the season opener a solid one.

Cato was one of the few bright spots for Marshall in a 34-13 loss at No. 24 West Virginia on Sunday in a game that was stopped for good with 14:36 left in the fourth quarter due to lightning.

Cato, selected the starter over sophomore A.J. Graham five days before the game, completed 15 of 21 passes for 115 yards without an interception in his college debut.

“I thought I did a good job coming into the game,” Cato said. “I still have things to work on. I thought for a freshman I played well. I wanted to come into the season mistake free. I want to continue doing that throughout the season.”

Also standing out for Marshall was the play of sophomore Tron Martinez, who was a game-time decision by Holliday to start at running back over freshman Travon Van.

Martinez led all rushers with 76 yards on 10 carries, including three carries of at least 14 yards.

But Marshall couldn’t muster any offensive touchdowns, the Thundering Herd’s secondary got picked apart, and the storm-related delays meant an even longer ride back to Huntington with a short week ahead before Saturday’s home game with Southern Mississippi.

“We left a lot on the field,” Martinez said. “It was a little disappointing.”

Holliday was a longtime assistant coach at West Virginia before leaving two years ago for the Thundering Herd. It was his first trip back to his alma mater and his first time in the visitor’s locker room.

He said Cato didn’t let him down.

“I thought he did some really good things,” Holliday said. “Number one, he didn’t turn the ball over. I thought he handled the atmosphere well. There were some things, but he didn’t do anything today to tell me he isn’t going to be a really good player.”

The Thundering Herd’s lone touchdown came on an 87-yard punt return by Andre Booker to open the scoring. Booker was called to duty after Troy Evans, last year’s regular punt and kickoff returner, was arrested earlier in the week on armed robbery charges.

The game was stopped after two lightning delays totaling of 4 hours, 22 minutes.

A joint statement issued by the schools’ athletic directors said the decision was made to stop the game following consultations with the Big East and Conference USA commissioners’ offices and the teams’ medical staffs. Player fatigue and the forecast for more storms also was a factor.

“It went exactly like we thought it would go tonight,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said, laughing. “I’m proud of the kids (for) the way they handled this situation.”

Despite difficulty running the ball, West Virginia improved to 11-0 against its cross-state foe, including six wins since the series resumed in 2006.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith completed 26 of 35 passes for 249 yards, including first-half scoring tosses of 4 yards to Ivan McCartney and 15 yards to Stedman Bailey.

“At times, I didn’t like our tempo and didn’t like our aggressiveness,” Smith said. “But I think the thing that I liked the most was they were all on the same page and knew what to do.”

The offenses that Holgorsen built the past three years as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Houston produced average scores of 58-9 in season openers.

On Sunday, the Mountaineers had plenty of offensive plays. It just didn’t equate into that many yards, especially on the ground.

Now Holgorsen has a short week to figure out how what to tweak before Saturday’s home game against Norfolk State.

“Marshall put a lot of pressure on us,” Holgorsen said. “There were times that we didn’t pick things up and there were some times where we didn’t run our routes fast enough for Geno to get the ball out.”

West Virginia freshman Andrew Buie got the start over three other running backs but was limited to a team-high 30 yards on 15 carries. He left in the third quarter after taking a hard hit, his arm dangling at his side.

On West Virginia’s next series, freshman Vernard Roberts was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 near midfield. Marshall took over and drove inside the West Virginia 10 but settled for Tyler Warner’s third field goal.

Tavon Austin extended West Virginia’s lead on the ensuing kickoff, weaving 100 yards into the end zone to put the Mountaineers ahead 27-13.

After Tyler Bitancurt’s extra point kick, play was stopped the first time as heavy thunderstorms moved in. Some in the sellout crowd gathered in the concourse, others went to a nearby indoor practice facility — and a steady stream of fans got in their cars and left.

Roberts capped West Virginia’s only possession after the first delay with a 1-yard score.