Florida International Golden Panthers running back Alex Gardner (1) lost his helmet against Marshall Thundering Herd during the first half.
Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI (AP) — With Marshall facing its first deficit of the season, Rakeem Cato did what he usually does.
He found the end zone.
Just like that, Marshall’s perfect season was back on track.
Cato — a Miami native — set an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record by throwing a touchdown pass for the 39th straight game, finishing with 214 yards and four scoring tosses and the 25th-ranked Thundering Herd (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) shook off a slow start and rolled past FIU 45-13 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten.
"It was a team effort for all 39 games and we still got more games to play," said Cato, who posed for photos with some fans afterward and shook hands with anyone he could reach as he left the field. "We’ve got to keep finding a way to find seven points."
It was the ninth time Cato threw for at least four touchdowns in a game. He has thrown for 110 scores in his career, by far the most among all active quarterbacks.
"How about Cato?" asked a smiling Marshall coach Doc Holliday. "I mean, it’s a record that may never be broken. That’s a heck of a record. If anyone deserves it, that young man does. And to be able to come down here to Miami and do that in front of his family, 15 minutes from where he grew up, that was huge."
With 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, Marshall’s lead was 17-7. Not even four minutes later, it was 38-7.
Devon Johnson caught two touchdown passes from Cato in a span of less than 3 minutes, Corey Tindal ran an interception 30 yards back for another score and another Herd rout was on — just as was the case in their first six outings this season.
Johnson finished with 117 yards rushing and 79 receiving, averaging 16.3 yards on his 12 touches.
Steward Butler added a 61-yard touchdown run for Marshall, which has scored at least 42 points in each of its past 13 regular-season games dating back to last season.
"We knew we were going to have adversity coming down here," Johnson said. "That team is good. That defense is good."
Cato entered Saturday tied with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw for a score in 38 straight games while playing for North Carolina State and Wisconsin.
The record-breaker went to Ryan Yurachek, a 1-yard toss with five seconds left in the opening quarter and coming 1 minute, 55 seconds after Alex McGough’s 1-yard quarterback keeper gave FIU an early 7-0 lead.
So for the first time in 2014, Marshall played from behind.
The Herd wasn’t rattled. The deficit lasted all of four plays.
Johnson’s career-long 71-yard run up the middle got Marshall into the red zone. Cato rolled right and found Yurachek in the end zone not long afterward; the record was his, the game was tied and a potential scare would soon be dodged.
"That record probably won’t be broken for a while now," Yurachek said.
Cato found Angelo Jean-Louis with a 13-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter, giving Marshall its first lead.
Alex Gardner rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries for FIU (3-5, 2-2), which fell to 0-9 against ranked teams. Gardner left with 13:14 remaining with an apparent upper-body injury.
Backup quarterback EJ Hillard threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Taylor with 1:50 left for the Panthers. Jonnu Smith had eight catches for 74 yards for FIU, which became the first team this season to hold the Herd scoreless on their first two offensive series.
Then again, Marshall tends to start slowly in Miami. The Herd — playing as a ranked team for the first time since September 2002 — trailed 3-0 in the second quarter at FIU last season before pulling away for a 48-10 win, and this one essentially followed the same script.
"Disappointing," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "You can’t make the mistakes against good football teams that we make."
Cato also passed Byron Leftwich for No. 2 on Marshall’s career passing list. With 12,088 yards, he’s behind only Chad Pennington (13,143) for the school record.
"The main thing was we knew this had be a business trip for us," Cato said. "And we had to leave here with the `W.’"