Usually, fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium enjoy get to enjoy the virtues of a good running game. That's typically how Navy plays with its prolific triple-option offense.
But in Friday's Military Bowl, fans in Annapolis were treated to a splendid passing exhibition instead. Marshall quarterback Raheem Cato carved up Maryland's secondary in leading the Thundering Herd to a 31-20 victory over the Terrapins in the first bowl game ever played in Maryland's state capital.
Cato completed 28 of 44 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, displaying the same kind of poise and accuracy he has demonstrated since he won the starting job as a true freshman.
Cato passed for 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns during the regular season and looked just as capable going against an Atlantic Coast Conference team after a long holiday layoff.
"This was a big-time game and I just wanted to lay it all on the line," Cato said.
He closed out the victory with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Harold "Gator" Hoskins with 3:42 left. That score gave the Thundering Herd its biggest lead of the game.
Hoskins finished with six catches for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Marshall's pitch-and-catch offense was good enough to offset a strong game by Maryland quarterback, C.J. Brown. Brown made plays with his arm and his feet throughout, completing 14 of 24 passes for 197 yards and a pair of scores.
But he threw an interception inside the last three minutes at a point when Maryland needed a pair of scores to win. That was the only turnover of the day - an indication of how much the offenses controlled the game.
"We're disappointed with outcome today, but Marshall's a very good team," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "We just weren't able to get off the field on third down defensively and had some errors where we gave up some big plays."
Marshall converted six of its 15 third-down opportunities (40 percent) and got a first down the only time it went for it on fourth down.
All in all, it was an eventful afternoon for the 30,162 fans who showed up on a pleasantly cool afternoon that seemed well-suited to football.
The fireworks started almost immediately. Cato threw a pair of touchdown passes in the first quarter, one to Tommy Shuler (nine catches, 68 yards) and one to Hoskins. Brown had a scoring pass of his own, a 29-yarder to Levern Jacobs in between Marshall's scores.
Brad Craddock hit a pair of field goals for Maryland in the second, sandwiched around a 27-yard boot by Marshall's Justin Haig. Marshall held a 17-13 lead at the break, which gave the tuckered-out defenses some time to catch their collective breath. The teams combined for 30 points and 30 first downs in the first 30 minutes.
Neither team could get on the scoreboard in the third quarter, although both offenses continued to march up and down the field. Marshall did most of its damage through the air while Maryland countered with Brown and tailback Brandon Ross, who rushed for 116 yards on 20 carries.
Maryland finally broke through and took its first lead of the game with a 17-play, 99-yard drive that consumed the second half of the third quarter. Maryland finally found the end zone when Brown hit tight end David Stinebaugh with a 2-yard scoring pass. That touchdown gave Maryland a 20-17 lead with 14:56 left.
But Marshall came right back. The Thundering Herd took the ensuing kickoff and moved 63 yards in nine plays to score on Essray Taliaferro's seven-yard run just two and a half minutes later.
"These kids never flinched," Mashall coach Don Holliday said. "To be able to answer back right there was huge."
Marshall tacked on the clinching score on Cato's pass to Hopkins after Maryland failed on two subsequent possessions.
"We had a couple of drops here, a couple of missed reads - just little things that weren't helping us on first and second down that gave some unmanageable third downs," said Brown. "All in all, we played well on offense. But obviously, we didn't get the job done."
The win enabled Marshall (10-4) to double last season's victory total.
Maryland, though disappointed with the final result, had much to celebrate as well. The Terrapins (7-6) surpassed their victory total in Edsall's first two seasons combined and hope to build on their 2013 success as they leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten in 2014.
"When it's all said and done, we had a great year," Brown said. "We had a wining season and were able to stretch it into the postseason. Today, we're proud of the effort but disappointed with the outcome. We'll just use this to prepare for the future."