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December 27, 2013

Field position, Cato doom Terps in Military Bowl

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - With one flick of his wrist, Rakeem Cato smashed the final nail into Maryland's coffin. Andre Monroe was bearing down on Marshall's stud signal caller, but the backpedaling Cato calmly lofted a fourth quarter floater into the hands of Gator Hoskins for his third touchdown throw of the game and 39th of the season.

Just like that, Maryland's hopes at a second Military Bowl title were dashed and their first winning season since 2010 was over. The touchdown grab was the second of the day for Hoskins and put the Thundering Herd up 31-20 with 3:42 left. Maryland would only muster nine more yards on their final six plays - including a C.J. Brown interception - as the Marshall players flooded the field in Annapolis as the final seconds burned off the clock.

"I expected the run," Monroe said of the game's decisive play. "They did play action and I shot through the line, just playing ball. And he got it off. To be honest, I felt like I hesitated and it cost me a step that could have potentially brought him to the ground."

The Terps defense was simply unable to handle Hoskins, who now has 15 touchdown catches on the season, tops in the nation among tight ends. He had six catches for 104 yards on the day, with his first score putting the Herd up 14-7 in the first quarter. Maryland linebacker Cole Farrand bit on a play fake by Cato, who found his tight end in the back of the end zone on second-and-goal at the eight.

"[Hoskins] really hurt us. We just didn't play that as well as we needed to," said Terps front man Randy Edsall. "We just had some breakdowns, and you can't have those types of breakdowns against the kind of athletes that Marshall has."

Cato, the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, was spectacular at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Friday afternoon. He connected on 28-of-44 passes for 337 yards and three scores. His first scoring hookup with Tommy Shuler made it 31 straight games with a touchdown pass for the strong-armed junior. On the game-sealing drive, Cato hit Hoskins for 28 yards on third-and-11. One play later, he hit him again for the game's final score, breaking Maryland's back.

"He definitely was a good quarterback," said Monroe, who pulled down Cato on the game's first play for Maryland's only sack of the day. "There were quite a few times we would get him back and he was able to wiggle or get the ball away just in time and do what they needed to get the ball down the field."

But it wasn't the Marshall offense that was Maryland's true undoing. Before their regular season-ending loss to Rice, the Herd had dropped at least 45 points on six straight opponents. Their balanced attack entered the Military Bowl seventh in the nation in scoring. The Terps knew they'd allow points and while they gave up 475 total yards, they also forced Marshall to punt seven times, more than they had in any game this season.

Little did Edsall know, that usually foolproof strategy would blow up in his face.

Marshall's Tyler Williams put together as good of a performance as a punter can in college football, pinning the Terps inside their own 10-yard line four times and just missing on a fifth. Maryland started two drives on their own one-yard line, one of which the Terps took 99 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, giving them their only lead of the game at 20-17.

"One of the big differences was their punter," Edsall said. "Their punter did a tremendous job of giving us tough field position all day long, and we weren't able to overcome that."

"It put us in a tough position, but we practice that," said Brown. "When you have a 17-play drive for 99 yards and a touchdown, it swings the momentum. That was a big start for us."

However, the resilient Thundering Herd answered right back with a seven yard touchdown scamper by Essray Taliaferro, who had 81 yards on 19 carries to go with his score.

"They did a very good job of answering right away," Brown added. "That kind of sunk the ship right there. We have to get out there and answer. It's a game of momentum, and we had it going in."

It is a rare occurrence that a punter can win a game, but it's been that kind of year for Edsall and the Terrapins, who finish up at 7-6 in their final year in the ACC.

The Terps dominated the time of possession for much of the game, holding the dynamic Marshall offense to only 17 points through three quarters. Behind 116 yards from running back Brandon Ross, Maryland was able to keep Cato and company off the field.

"One of the big things coming into this game was establishing the run," said Ross, who cracked the century mark for the first time since week two against Old Dominion. "We wanted to try to keep our defense off the field for as long as we could. That was our goal."

The strategy only worked for so long, as Cato and Hoskins exploded in the fourth quarter to seal the Terrapins' fate. The Terps still won the time of possession battle, 33:22 to 26:38, and also ran 73 plays to Marshall's 79, an admirable achievement against a Herd attack that seems to operate at warp speed.

Maryland was horrendous on third down, going 2-for-14 and twice going three-and-out deep in their own territory, courtesy of Williams' punts. Marshall countered on both occasions with effortless scoring drives that proved to be the difference in the game. On the afternoon, Marshall's average starting field position was their own 37-yard line while Maryland's was their own 19.

"It's tough," Edsall lamented. "We had a tough time changing the field position, especially in the first half. The further you have to drive the ball - your percentages go down in terms of scoring. That was something we could never get on top of during the game."

It took these capable offenses - both of which had been off for 20-plus days - some time to knock off the rust, as they combined for four punts and 23 total yards on the game's first four possessions.

Brown completed 14-of-24 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns for Maryland. His favorite target was sophomore Levern Jacobs, who had seven grabs, 100 yards and a first quarter score. It was the second career 100-yard game for Jacobs, who also kicked in 26 yards on the ground.

Maryland amassed 391 yards of offense in total and went two-for-three on fourth down, but ultimately faced too much field too often to combat a Marshall team that lived in their territory for much of the day.

"We weren't able to finish drives and had to kick the field goals," Edsall said. The Terps piled up 146 yards in the second quarter, only to come away with six points via two short Brad Craddock field goals.

"Our kids played hard, and I'm proud of what they accomplished this season."

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