Herd futility vs. UCF goes way back
HUNTINGTON - Rakeem Cato's career splashed down to an all-time low last year at Central Florida, and didn't do much for any of his Marshall offensive mates.
By the time the Thundering Herd dried off from its 16-6 loss in Noah's Ark-type conditions in Orlando, it had lost its seventh straight game to the Knights, mustered just 130 total yards and was one defensive touchdown from being shut out.
And Cato? After losing his composure on the sidelines, the true freshman was benched until further notice. He played some over the next four weeks, but did not become the Herd's top quarterback again until A.J. Graham was injured at Tulsa.
Cato assures that he got the message from coach Doc Holliday.
"That game changed me around, got me to focus on college football and life, knowing that anything can be taken away from you," Cato said Monday. "Just me maturing after that game, just learning, just learning how things go. That was the turning point."
That UCF game seems so long ago, and it was - Cato has thrown for 3,584 yards and 29 touchdowns since. But the Herd's streak of futility against the Knights is much, much longer.
This week marks the 11th and probably last time the teams will play. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, with CBS Sports Network airing it.
How long has it been since the Herd downed an anemic UCF squad 20-3 in a Mid-American Conference contest on Oct. 30, 2004? Let's put it in these terms:
Marshall has joined Conference USA, hired two football coaches, hired two basketball coaches, renamed the football stadium after a major benefactor and has seen its emerging running back from '04 win two Super Bowl rings.
UCF has built a new football stadium and opened a new basketball arena, joined Conference USA, ended a 17-game losing streak (against Marshall, of course), won two C-USA football championships, hired away MU's basketball coach, won acceptance into the Big East, appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions twice, and has been hit with seven years worth of probation. One athletic director has moved on to another conference school and has since been fired there; his successor resigned amid the recent infractions case.
And most of today's players have risen from youth football and middle school to become major-college athletes. Even Marshall offensive lineman John Bruhin, that sixth-year graybeard, was just a sophomore in high school.
He has lived through most of the Herd's futility, so he "appreciates" it better than most. He has witnessed such lowlights as the 2008 game in which the Herd made every conceivable miscue, the 2009 game in which UCF rallied to win in the final minute and the forgettable 2010 midweek game featuring a thunderstorm delay.
And the 2011 slosh-around in Orlando. "UCF's always left a bitter taste in our mouths every time we've played them," Bruhin said.
And it leaves a bitter taste around Huntington. Some players interviewed Monday haven't picked up on that, but defensive end Alex Bazzie has - though he didn't realize the streak has gone back to his freshman year in high school.
"We have great fans, and I think they're looking forward to this week more than we are," Bazzie said. "Shoot, we could put up a sign that we're hosting a tryout this week for people who want to beat up UCF guys. The whole city would come."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.