For The Independent
ANNAPOLIS, MD. —
For a team known for its offense, Marshall put together a complete performance in the final game of the season.
Behind quarterback Rakeem Cato’s 337 passing yards, Marshall defeated Maryland 31-20 in the Military Bowl at the Naval-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Friday afternoon.
With the win over the Terrapins, the Thundering Herd picked up its first win over a “power conference” team since 2003 — they beat then-No. 6 Kansas State.
For Marshall coach Doc Holliday, the complete win was a great capper to what’s been an impressive season for Marshall.
“I’m proud of how we played in all three phases,” Holliday said. “It was a great way to send the seniors out and a great way to carry momentum into the offseason and next season.”
Coming back next season is Cato, who was named Military Bowl Most Valuable Player of the Year.
The junior from Miami, Fla., threw three touchdown passes and joins Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington as the only Marshall quarterbacks to throw for 10,000 career yards.
According to Maryland coach Randy Edsall, Cato was able to escape the Terrapins’ pressure and make plays on the outside.
Cato also stayed upright most of the game, being sacked only once.
“When we did get some pressure, we didn’t keep him in the pocket,” Edsall said. “That was one thing we wanted to try to do was make sure that if he was going to scramble he was going to scramble up the middle. We did get the pressure, we didn’t get the sacks.”
And while Marshall’s offense gets most of the praise, the defense and special teams held up their end of the bargain on Friday.
Tyler Williams punted seven times and Maryland didn’t have a return, and the Terrapins had to start inside their own 10-yard line four times.
Playing with great field position, the Marshall defense followed the old bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy.
Down by a touchdown in the first half, Maryland had two opportunities to score in the Marshall red zone.
The Thundering Herd’s defense stiffened up and forced two Terrapin field goals, while maintaining the lead.
“We knew we needed to score touchdowns because of the way Marshall’s offense is,” Edsall said. “We weren’t able to finish some drives and had to kick the field goals.
“We had some opportunities to make some plays, we just didn’t make enough of them.”
Maryland was finally able to sustain a drive late.
After a punt pinned the Terrapins at their own 1-yard line, Maryland had the longest drive in Military Bowl history.
Maryland had a 17-play, 99-yard, almost eight-minute drive that resulted in quarterback C.J. Brown finding tight end Dave Stinebaugh for a 2-yard touchdown pass.
“(The punt) put us in a tough position, but we practice that,” Brown said. “When you have a 17-play drive for 99 yards and a touchdown, it swings momentum. That was a big drive for us.”
Facing its first deficit in the game, Marshall didn’t flinch. The Herd responded with a quick 63-yard drive that spanned just less than three minutes.
After two huge passes by Cato, including a scrambling, 23-yard throw to Craig Wilkins, running back Essray Taliaferro scored on a 7-yard touchdown.
With his offense on the sidelines for almost eight minutes, Cato just wanted to keep his group patient as they waited for its turn on the field.
“I wanted to keep my teammates motivated and to be ready to get back on the field,” Cato said. “I told the guys that when we get back on the field, following their drive, that we have to capitalize.”
After Marshall’s defense forced two different three-and-outs, Marshall put the final score on the board with someone who is used to finding the end zone.
Facing pressure from the Maryland front line, Cato hit tight end Gator Hoskins for an 8-yard touchdown.
The senior tight end finished with six catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the nation in tight end TD catches with 15.
The most impressive play of the game for Hoskins came before the final touchdown grab.
On a 3rd-and-12, Cato found Hoskins for a 28-yard reception, with eight of those yards coming with a Maryland player on his back.
“Right before we called the play, Cato looked at me and said ‘You have to win it right here, I am coming to you,’” Hoskins said. “We saw (Maryland) was trying to put the safety on me. When the play happened, I saw that we was on the outside, so I broke inside and Cato found me and I just made a good play.”
Maryland, which will enter the Big Ten next season, was led by Brown. The senior quarterback had both of the Terrapins’ touchdowns and 197 passing yards.
Sophomore running back Brandon Ross finished the game with 116 rushing yards.
This is the first bowl game for Maryland since 2010, and the first under Edsall.
Marshall improved to 8-3 in bowl games and has won 10 games in a season for the first time since 2002.
And what could be more impressive for Holliday and the Herd, Cato and a lot of starters are coming back next season.
“We wanted to send our seniors out the right way,” Holliday said. “We have a great group of seniors, but not a lot of them. We have a lot of guys back and we have to coach the heck out of them because we can do big things next year.”