By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Ironic that Marshall would be recognizing its landmark 1998 team that went 12-1, won a second straight Mid-American Conference championship and won a bowl game for the first time ever.
The quarterback on that team was Chad Pennington, who set a school record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass on his way to a career in the National Football League.
Pennington was on hand as he moved over a bit in the record books.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato tied Pennington’s mark of 26 straight games, tossing five touchdowns in the Thundering Herd’s 61-13 victory over winless Southern Miss Saturday in front of a light Joan C. Edwards Stadium crowd of 20,398.
Cato threw for four TDs in the first quarter, each to a different receiver. He completed his first eight passes and eventually finished 21-of-28 for 262 yards and was not intercepted.
Cato exited before the Herd’s last series of the third quarter, replaced by backup Blake Frohnapfel. That meant one of Pennington’s records remained safe — he and Byron Leftwich share the mark for TD passes in a game with six.
The team mark was tied when Frohnapfel threw a 40-yard touchdown to Davonte Allen in the fourth quarter.
“Me and (offensive coordinator Bill) Legg was telling the team all week that we’ve got to start fast,” Cato said. “Put ourselves in a comfortable lead and put ourselves in great position to win the ballgame. I think we did a great job of that.”
Nine receivers caught passes for the Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA), paced by Tommy Shuler’s 10 receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Allen also scored twice and had three catches for a team-high 83 yards.
The 61 points were the most ever scored by the Herd in a C-USA game, and the most since a 66-21 win over Buffalo in 2002.
Jumping on a winless team was big, especially coming off the team’s disappointing 51-49 loss at Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 24.
“Going into this football game, it was important we come out and start fast,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “I thought we did that. It was also important we come out in the second half and do the same thing, and we did that, also.”
Southern Miss (0-8, 0-4) was briefly competitive, scoring 10 straight after trailing 28-0. True freshman quarterback Nick Mullens hooked up with Markese Triplett on an 81-yard touchdown pass — Triplett broke free for the last 40 yards after Herd safety Taj Letman tried to punch the ball free instead of going for the tackle.
Ironically, the drive started when Essray Taliaferro, seemingly on his way to a 61-yard touchdown run, had the ball knocked out of his arm and through the end zone by Emmanuel Johnson for a touchback.
Corey Acosta’s 39-yard field goal capped off a drive that started after Tyler Williams shanked a 23-yard punt to the Southern Miss 47.
“We hit a little bit of a bump in the road there in the second quarter, where we had a couple of turnovers that shouldn’t have happened,” Holliday said. “We fumbled in the end zone, which is ridiculous. But for the most part, I thought we played pretty clean.”
That was the last bit of life shown by Southern Miss, which allowed two more touchdowns after the Herd began to empty its bench. It was more of the same for the Eagles, who had lost their previous two games by identical 55-14 scores, and have been outscored 120-37 in their last two meetings with the Herd.
“It’s obvious we didn’t do many things right,” first-year Eagles coach Todd Monken said. “You can sugarcoat it all you want, but we didn’t tackle very well and we didn’t defend them fluently enough. ... We’re having a hard time piecing plays together, and there’s no way to get around it.”
Marshall racked up 636 yards of total offense, including 304 on the ground. Taliaferro ran for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Kevin Grooms, still nursing a high ankle sprain, scored on a 75-yard run and finished with 109 yards on eight carries.
It was the first time two Herd backs went over 100 yards since Steward Butler and Grooms did it in a double-overtime win at Rice last season.
No Herd ball carrier ran more than eight times.
Senior Devon Smith went to the turf after catching a 58-yard bomb in the first quarter. He left the game with an apparent left leg injury, but returned in the second quarter, when he returned a punt 55 yards to the Southern Miss 7.
Butler, rumored to be in Holliday’s doghouse, had a 59-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“He protected the ball,” Holliday said. “Butler will be fine.”
Justin Haig missed an extra-point try in the third quarter, breaking his personal streak of 102 successful PAT kicks. The team streak was 156, with the miss being Marshall’s first since Sept. 25, 2010, against Ohio.
The Eagles later blocked a PAT after Butler’s touchdown.
Marshall is 5-3 for the first time since 2009 and has four games to attain bowl-eligibility. The Herd will host UAB at noon Saturday on Comcast Sports South.
SM 0 10 3 0 — 13
MU 28 7 13 13 — 61
Mar—Hoskins 27 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 13:41.
Mar—Wilkins 15 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 10:22.
Mar—D.Allen 23 pass from Cato (Haig kick), 4:00.
Mar—Shuler 1 pass from Cato (Haig kick), :19.
USM—Triplett 81 pass from Mullens (Acosta kick), 7:05.
USM—FG Acosta 39, 3:30.
Mar—Shuler 9 pass from Cato (Haig kick), :27.
Mar—Taliaferro 18 run (Haig kick), 12:05.
Mar—Grooms 75 run (kick failed), 5:57.
USM—FG Acosta 33, 2:10.
Mar—D.Allen 40 pass from B.Frohnapfel (Haig kick), 11:48.
Mar—Butler 59 run (kick blocked), 8:46.
First downs 19 29
Rushes-yards 33-74 27-304
Passing 323 332
Comp-Att-Int 24-48-1 28-37-0
Return Yards 10 69
Punts-Avg. 7-40.6 3-39.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 13-76 3-17
Time of Possession 37:24 22:36
RUSHING—Southern Miss., Payne 13-46, Bracken 5-23, Hardy 4-14, Richard 5-10, Holmes 1-(minus 9), Mullens 5-(minus 10). Marshall, Grooms 8-109, Taliaferro 8-108, Butler 3-60, Watson 5-30, Cato 3-(minus 3).
PASSING—Southern Miss., Mullens 24-48-1-323. Marshall, Cato 21-28-0-262, B.Frohnapfel 7-9-0-70.
RECEIVING—Southern Miss., Holmes 8-49, Triplett 4-123, Bracken 4-30, Richard 3-45, Briggs 2-33, R.Bradley 2-24, Sullivan 1-19. Marshall, Shuler 10-76, D.Johnson 4-39, D.Allen 3-83, Reaves 3-9, D.Smith 2-64, Hoskins 2-35, Watson 2-1, Wilkins 1-15, King 1-10.