Purdue's Josh Johnson breaks up a pass intended for Marshall's Aaron Dobson.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Rakeem Cato threw the ball around Ross-Ade Stadium like no other quarterback Purdue has seen.
But of his 68 attempts Saturday, three of them went to the Boilermakers, and that's what sank the Thundering Herd. The Boilermakers turned those three into 21 second-quarter points, piled up a 42-14 halftime lead and held on for a 51-41 victory.
Before 45,481 under perfect blue skies, Cato completed a school-record 45 passes out of 68 attempts, which tied a Herd regular-season mark. His 439 yards and five touchdowns were both career marks, but they were more than offset by those three crushing picks.
The first pick came when Aaron Dobson bobbled what should have been a completion into the hands of Antoine Lewis. Marshall was down just 21-14 with 8:37 left in the first half, and would have crossed midfield on a potential tying drive.
But the Boilermakers scored after that on a 35-yard pass from Caleb TerBush to Gary Bush, and then threw two roundhouse blows - a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ricardo Allen and a 74-yard interception return for a score by Josh Johnson on the next two possessions. That gave Purdue (3-1) a 42-14 halftime lead, with an apparent rout ensuing.
The rout never happened. Cato rallied the Herd with a 28-yard TD shot to Gator Hoskins, followed by a Derek Mitchell's 35-yard return of Jermain Kelson's blocked punt in the third quarter. Cato also found Hoskins for a 1-yard TD, Hoskins' third of the game, and Craig Wilkins for 15 yards to close the scoring.
The Herd (2-3) held the Boilermakers to nine second-half points on two lengthy drives, but could never get closer than the final margin. Those three interceptions, one more than Cato had thrown in the Herd's first four games, loomed large throughout.
"I'm proud of their effort, but we lost the game; that's unacceptable," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "You don't take care of the football, it's a different game. They're a good team; they're picked by a lot of people to win their side of their conference [Big Ten].
"I'm proud of the way the kids fought in the second half, and we'll be a better team because of it."
Cato spread the ball to 12 different players, but none more than fellow sophomore and longtime friend Tommy Shuler. Shuler caught 19 passes, blowing away the previous school record of 15 shared by Mike Barber, Denero Marriott and Josh Davis, for 200 yards. Davis was the last Herd receiver to hit 200 yards, doing it in 2002 against Appalachian State.
Shuler's 19 catches are a season-best in the major-college ranks. He also broke the Purdue opponent record of 16 set by Illinois' David Williams on Oct. 12, 1985. Cato topped Jack Trudeau's records for completions (39) and attempts (66), from that same game.
TerBush had his successes against the Herd defense, going 27 of 37 for 294 yards and four touchdowns, three to Bush. Antavian Edison led the Boilermakers with 99 yards on six receptions, while Bush had 83 yards on seven catches and O.J. Ross caught nine balls for 69 yards.
Edison scored once on the day's longest pass play, a 41-yarder that gave Purdue a 14-7 lead. That came 42 seconds after Marshall tied the game at 7 on Cato's 4-yard pass to Antavious Wilson. Marshall tied it at 14 on Cato's 12-yarder to Hoskins, and Purdue answered with a 75-yard drive, one of three that going that distance or longer. Akeem Shaves scored from the 2 to put Purdue up 21-14 with 9:30 left in the half.
As it turned out, that put Purdue ahead for good, thanks to the three-interception sequence that left the Herd chasing the rest of the way.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.