Four Downs: Gutsy Marshall trumps Terps in Military Bowl

Military Bowl MVP Rakeem Cato accounted for 352 total yards (337 passing), three touchdowns and zero interceptions in Marshall's big victory over Maryland.

Here’s the scene: With 3:47 left in the game and Marshall sitting on a four-point lead, conventional wisdom dictated the Thundering Herd drain the clock on 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line.

Forget that QB Rakeem Cato had thrown passes (one complete, one incomplete) on the previous two plays or that Maryland had just spent a timeout. This was the perfect time for tailback Essray Taliaferro (91 total yards, one TD) to run between the tackles and stay inbounds.

Instead, working out of a shotgun, Cato play-faked to Taliaferro — momentarily drawing the Maryland linebackers and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage — before lofting a touchdown pass to Gator Hoskins (six catches, 104 yards, two TDs), his second score of the day.

If Cato tosses an incomplete pass on that first down, stopping the clock, perhaps Marshall abandons all thoughts of moving the ball through the air. But Cato could do no wrong on this day, hitting Hoskins with the game-clinching pass.

Even if Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Blake Bortles (UCF), Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Bryce Petty (Baylor) all return next season, Cato (7,780 yards passing, 73 passing TDs for 2012-13) still might take all comers for the Unitas award, earmarked for the nation’s best senior quarterback.

On Friday, Cato (eight games of 300 yards passing and/or three TDs) shredded the Maryland defense for 352 total yards (337 passing), three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Of equal importance, Marshall had only two three-and-out drives in the game’s final 53 minutes — a credit to Cato’s sterling play (and leadership).

The lone downside to Marshall’s success? The Thundering Herd’s longest drive was three minutes flat, meaning that Maryland had ample time to find its rhythm on offense.

Of course, that never really materialized for the Terrapins, who punted four times and committed two turnovers in their final seven drives.

OK, so Brown isn’t Boomer Esiason or Neil O’Donnell (famous Maryland passers), but he has enjoyed tangible progress as a senior, accounting for 2,045 yards passing and 25 total touchdowns.

In Maryland’s season-opening rout of Florida International, Brown tallied 386 total yards and five touchdowns, while missing on only three of 23 passes.

And in the Terrapins’ win over North Carolina State on Nov. 30, Brown notched 397 total yards (259 passing) and five total TDs.

But there would be no repeat of either performance on Friday, with Brown passing for 197 yards and producing just 38 yards on the ground — despite 19 carries.

Brown looked OK in spots, tossing two touchdowns; but the Terrapins had a meek ending to their season, punting twice and turning the ball over twice (once on downs) in the final minutes.

Of his role in five Maryland losses, Brown averaged only 161 yards passing.

Unfortunately for the Terrapins, Brown’s mediocre outing was more meaningful than Brandon Ross’s 124 total yards or receiver Levern Jacobs’ seven catches, 100 yards and one touchdown.

It’s an important lesson to heed when making bowl projections: Don’t let ‘home-area advantage’ trump the shortcomings of a middling club.

Especially one that needed a late touchdown to beat Virginia (winless in ACC play) at home.