ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Marshall accomplished everything it set out to do in the Military Bowl.
With an uplifting 31-20 victory over Maryland on Friday, the Thundering Herd provided their seniors with a lasting memory and laid the groundwork for success in 2014.
Marshall (10-4) doubled its win total of a year ago and reached double digits in victories for the first time since 2002.
"It's a great way to send the seniors out and it's a great way to carry the momentum over to the offseason and into next year," coach Doc Holliday said.
The Thundering Herd will miss senior Gator Hoskins, who closed out his college career with six catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Hoskins scored 15 TDs this season, most in the NCAA among tight ends.
But quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Shuler, both juniors, will be back. That does not bode well for the rest of Conference USA.
Cato went 28 for 44 for 337 yards and three touchdowns against Maryland, and Shuler caught nine passes for 68 yards and a score. For the season, Cato threw 39 touchdown passes and Shuler caught 106 passes for 1,165 yards.
Cato was at his best when it mattered most. After C.J. Brown led Maryland (7-6) on a 99-yard drive to put the Thundering Herd in a 20-17 hole early in the third quarter, Cato calmly directed a 63-yard march that put Marshall ahead for good.
"I told the guys that when we get back on the field following their drive, we have to capitalize," he said. "I saw that they were able to keep us off the field from time to time, but in the end we just need to have the mindset to get on the field and score."
Cato added a touchdown pass to Hoskins with 3:42 left to clinch it, setting off a wild celebration on the Marshall sideline and among the spirited, green-clad fans in the crowd of 30,163.
Making its first bowl appearance under third-year coach Randy Edsall, Maryland closed out its association with the ACC with a disappointing defeat.
Despite the loss, Maryland had its first winning season since 2010 and finished with more victories than in Edsall's first two years combined.
"I think this season really helped us as we leave the ACC and enter the Big Ten," Edsall said.
Brandon Ross rushed for 116 yards for Maryland, and Brown went 14 for 24 for 197 yards. Although the Terrapins amassed 391 yards, they converted only two of 14 third-down tries.
Marshall totaled 475 yards and converted six third-down attempts - four in the fourth quarter.
"We just weren't able to get off the field on third down, defensively," Edsall said. "Offensively, we had some opportunities to make some plays. We just didn't make enough of them."
Given that Marshall came in averaging 43 points and more than 500 yards per game, the Terrapins knew they would have to score plenty of points. They kept it close for a while, but Cato proved too difficult to contain.
"When we did get some pressure, we didn't keep him in the pocket," Edsall said.
Cato was clearly the difference. He couldn't generate enough points against Rice in the Conference USA title game, but on a national stage against an ACC foe, he was brilliant.
"I tell the guys all the time, 'Big-time players make big-time plays in a big-time game, and this was a big-time game,'" Cato said.
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.
In the same situation earlier in the game, Maryland ran three times for 2 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 drive ended with a 2-yard pass from Brown to tight end Dave Stinebaugh, giving Maryland a 20-17 lead with 14:56 left.
Less than three minutes later, Marshall regained the lead.
"To be able to answer back like that," Holliday said, "was huge."