By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
ANNAPOLIS, Md. —
Despite a makeshift offensive line, a fourth-quarter deficit and a 6-for-15 conversion rate on third down, the Marshall Thundering Herd took the measure of Maryland in the Military Bowl on Saturday, defeating the Terrapins 31-20.
“These kids never flinched,” said Marshall’s Doc Holliday, who is now 2-0 in bowl games as a head coach. “One thing we talked about all week, and especially this morning, was, ‘Let’s play great. Let’s go out and play great.
“They weren’t concerned about the scoreboard. They weren’t concerned about anything other than just playing extremely hard.”
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his season total to 39 passing TDs this year. Gator Hoskins caught two of those scoring aerials and had 104 receiving yards in all.
Evan McKelvie led the Marshall defense with nine tackles, seven unassisted. The inspired play in the second half of senior defensive lineman Alex Bazzie helped the Herd keep the Terps at bay.
The punters were among the game’s unsung heroes. Marshall’s Tyler Williams averaged 40.6 yards on his seven punts, with the Herd special teams downing four of them inside the 20 yard line. Maryland’s Nathan Renfro also punted seven times for a 40-yard average.
On the third play of the game, Marshall’s starting right tackle Clint Van Horn, a Beckley resident, left the game with an unidentified injury, and did not return. Holliday said immediately after the contest that he had no information on the extent of Van Horn’s injury.
In the second quarter, tackle Garrett Scott also had to limp off the field, though he returned later. Marshall eventually had to go with a system of rotating guards and linemen playing out of position.
All that shuffling of the blockers did not seem to concern Cato, the unflappable offensive player of the year in Conference USA.
“I trust all the guys up front. I really didn't really pay it any attention,” Cato said. “I was just keeping my focus on the sidelines, just getting the plays and making sure I was executing the plays.”
The first four drives of the contest at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium were three downs and out. Marshall took advantage of field position from the punting game and began its third possession at the Maryland 37.
Three plays later, it initially appeared that Essray Taliaferro, who is from nearby Washington, D.C., scored on a 15-yard run up the middle, but the touchdown call was overturned by a video review.
Two plays after that, Cato popped a look-in pass to Tommy Shuler for a 1-yard touchdown. Maryland answered with a 75-yard drive, capped by C.J. Brown’s 29-yard scoring pass to his favorite receiver of the day, Levern Jacobs.
In the final minute of the first quarter, Cato ended a quick 70-yard trip down the field by flipping an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hoskins. The drive was aided by Maryland’s second pass-interference penalty of the quarter.
The only points of the second quarter came on a pair of Maryland field goals from Brad Craddock and a 27-yard 3-pointer by Marshall’s Justin Haig. The Herd took a 17-13 lead to the locker room.
About midway through the third period, Williams booted a 51-yard punt that teammate Deandre Reaves snagged inside the 1-yard line.
The Terrapins embarked on a record-setting 99-yard drive, using 17 plays and 7:44 of the game clock. Brown found tight end Dave Stinebaugh for a 2-yard touchdown pass and Maryland held the lead for the first and only time, 20-17.
Marshall almost immediately faced a third and 12 at its own 34 yard line, and the Maryland fans created a wall of noise to cheer on its defense. Cato calmly rolled to his right and hooked up with Craig Wilkins for a first-down completion of 23 yards.
That seemed to energize Cato and the Marshall offense. Taliaferro churned seven yards through the Maryland defense for the go-ahead touchdown to end a quick nine-play possession.
The Terrapins’ next drive was also short. Brown’s quarterback keeper on third down and 6 was stuffed by McKelvie to end the possession after a four-yard gain.
With 4:05 left in the game, Marshall converted a key play on third and 11 when Cato passed to Hoskins, who kept fighting for yardage and was finally brought down on the Maryland 8 after a 28-yard gain.
He scored the game’s final touchdown on a pass from Cato on the next play.
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said, “We just had some breakdowns, and you can’t have those kind of breakdowns against those kind of athletes that Marshall has, and expect to stop them.
Maryland had the ball for almost seven minutes more than Marshall, with 73 offensive plays for 391 total yards, but went 2-for-14 on third-down conversions.
Edsall said, “As fast as they (Masrshall) were going, we wanted to be able to control the clock a little bit. The problem we had, we just got down into the red zone and we ended up kicking some field goals rather than getting touchdowns. That was a little bit of the difference in the first half.
Brown completed 14 of 24 passes for 197 yards and ran the ball 19 times for a net of 28 yards. Jacobs caught seven balls for 100 yards and halfback Brandon Ross gained 116 yards on 20 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt.
On a fourth quarter scramble, Brown went over 576 rushing yards for the season, a new Maryland record for a quarterback.
Holliday said, “We had to contain Brown. He’s a tremendous player. We didn’t totally stop the run but we did well enough to win the game.”
Bazzie said, “It was a tough challenge at first, but we found a way to get it done.”
Bazzie, a senior from Silver Spring, Md., acknowledged that “it was the last go-around for me.” He said he was focused on getting a win for the Marshall seniors rather than playing Marshall’s first game in Maryland.
“I wasn’t concerned too much about coming home and facing the home state,” Bazzie said. “That wasn’t my concern until after, when I looked up and saw that we were up on that scoreboard and that clock said double-zeroes.
“That’s when I realized that, wow, I just beat the home-state team. That’s when it kicked in.”
The sixth annual Military Bowl was presented by Northrop Grumman. It was the first bowl game to be played in Annapolis, the capital city of Maryland.
—Contact Tom Bone