Rakeem Cato guided the Marshall University’s high-powered offense to its first Conference USA East Division title this season. And on a sunny Friday afternoon, Cato finished off the year by delivering the Thundering Herd its first 10-win season since 2002.
Cato completed 28 of 44 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, directing a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to lead Marshall to a 31-20 victory over Maryland in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, benefiting the USO, before 30,163 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
Maryland had taken a 20-17 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when quarterback C.J. Brown threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dave Stinebaugh. That capped a 99-yard drive, but the
The Terrapins, in their final game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference before moving to the Big Ten Conference, were unable to hold onto the lead.
Marshall (10-4) moved 63 yards in nine plays on its ensuing possession. Running back Essray Taliaferro, a Washington native, scored on a seven-yard run to put the Thundering Herd ahead for good, 24-20.
“These kids didn’t flinch,” Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. “The one thing I like about this group of kids is that it didn’t matter that [Maryland] went down the field. … Being able to respond from that drive was huge.”
After Maryland (7-6) punted on its next series, Marshall put the game away. Cato, the game’s most valuable player, finished off the 50-yard drive with his second eight-yard touchdown pass of the game to Gator Hoskins. That gave Hoskins 15 touchdown catches this season, most in the nation by a tight end, and increased the Thundering Herd’s lead to 31-20 with 3 minutes 42 seconds left.
“What Gator has been able to do all season is create a mismatch between him and the defender covering him,” Holliday said.
Marshall entered averaging 43 points per game, but its underappreciated defense played a huge role in this one.
Maryland scored only one touchdown after halftime, and A.J. Leggett followed Cato’s final TD pass with an interception to set off a celebration among the huge gathering of Marshall fans among the crowd.
Brandon Ross rushed for 116 yards for Maryland, and Brown went 14 for 24 for 197 yards and an interception.
After a whirlwind first half that produced 30 points and 24 first downs, the teams settled into a defensive struggle in the third quarter. Each of the first four possessions ended in punts, but on the last one Marshall pinned the Terrapins on their own 1, one of four punts inside the 10-yard line by Tyler Williams.
In the same situation earlier in the game, Maryland ran three times for two yards and punted. This time, the Terrapins put together a 17-play drive that included a pair of fourth down conversions and lasted for 7 minutes, 44 seconds. The 99-yard march ended with Stinebaugh’s touchdown catch, giving Maryland its first lead of the game, 20-17, with 14:56 left.
Marshall was quick to respond. Cato completed two third-down passes, then Taliaferro scored the go-ahead touchdown.
The first half started slowly, but by halftime both teams’ offenses seemed to find their rhythm. Cato went 16 for 25 for 193 and two touchdowns in the half to help the Thundering Herd grab a 17-13 lead.
“He was very shifty. That was one of his biggest assets,” Maryland defensive tackle Andre Monroe said. “There were quite a few times we would get him back [in the pocket] and he was able to wiggle or get the ball away just in time and do what they needed to do to get the ball down the field.”
After Williams pinned the Terrapins near their own goal line, Marshall went up 7-0 with a 37-yard drive that ended with Cato’s 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tommy Shuler. Cato’s 39 touchdown passes this season tied Chad Pennington’s school record set in 1997.
Maryland answered with a 29-yard touchdown throw from Brown to Levern Jacobs, but the Thundering Herd promptly regained the lead with a lengthy march that produced an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Hoskins.
“Their tight end really hurt us,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said.
The back-and-forth duel continued in the second quarter. After Maryland’s Brad Craddock kicked a 25-yard field field goal, Marshall got a 27-yarder from Justin Haig for a 17-10 lead.
Near the end of the half, Maryland moved 81 yards in 10 plays to set up Craddock for his second field goal, a 33-yarder that made it 17-13 at halftime.