The interaction happened repeatedly Friday afternoon, less a conversation than a one-sided directive, man to man, quarterback to tight end.
Marshall was searching for a defining spark against the Maryland football team during the Military Bowl, so quarterback Rakeem Cato kept approaching tight end Gator Hoskins to say, “I’m coming to you.”
Time after time, Hoskins, birth name Harold, released from the line of scrimmage and encountered little resistance up the middle.
All of his six catches, for 104 yards and two touchdowns, unfolded in this manner.
And it left Maryland (7-6) scrambling to exhume moral victories in a breakthrough season that ended on a sour note.
“When it’s all said and done, we had a great year,” said Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who despite breaking the program’s single-season rushing record for his position was held to 38 yards on 19 carries. “We had a winning season that was able to extend to the postseason, go to a bowl game. We had a great time at the Military Bowl. Today was proud of the effort, disappointed with the outcome.”
Maryland’s selection was a win-win in many ways.
It afforded a cash-strapped athletics department the opportunity to remain nearby without fear of excess spending for traveling across the country, while it gave the local fan base a chance to watch a team that had improved from two wins to four wins to seven under Coach Randy Edsall.
For the Military Bowl itself, Maryland’s impending move to the Big Ten meant it could no longer contractually select the state’s flagship institution, so here was the chance for one more union.
And the announced crowd in Annapolis was 30,163.
Meanwhile, the Thundering Herd (10-4) crossed the border looking to play spoiler. And with Cato and the nation’s seventh-best scoring offense, the Herd had 13 plays that gained at least 10 yards and proved too much for the Terps to keep pace.
The game was billed as a potential shootout, and what unexpectedly began as a defensive battle — four punts over as many possessions — quickly morphed into some offensive fireworks.
Gifted strong field position after a pass interference penalty, Cato found the end zone on a one-yard slant route toss to Tommy Shuler.
It was Cato’s 32nd straight game with a touchdown pass, the nation’s second-longest active streak, and his 337 passing yards earned him MVP honors.
“We had some breakdowns,” Edsall said. “You can’t have those kind of breakdowns against the kind of athletes that Marshall has and expect to stop them.”
Maryland answered with a methodical 75-yard drive, balanced by read-option pitches and timely passes from Brown (14 for 24, 197 yards), the last of which found Levern Jacobs on a post across the middle for a 29-yard touchdown.
The Terrapins kept pace with two Brad Craddock field goals, but another Cato score — this time an eight-yard floater to Hoskins — sent Marshall into halftime leading 17-13.
“When you get down in the red zone, you want seven and not three,” Brown said. “That’s the biggest thing that hurt us today.”
The excitement fizzled as the second half began.
Conservative play-calling near midfield actually helped Marshall, which received a career day from punter Tyler Williams. The sophomore had three punts downed inside the Maryland 5-yard line and twice at the 1.
Edsall’s gambling route paid off. Twice Maryland converted fourth-down attempts, and once the fourth quarter arrived, one play was needed to score on a rollout pass from Brown to tight end Dave Stinebaugh.
That two-yard touchdown capped a 17-play drive that totaled 99 yards and chomped nearly eight minutes off the clock. It also gave the Terps their first lead.
But the Herd responded, regaining the advantage on a seven-yard touchdown run from running back Essray Taliaferro, then clinching it on Hoskins’s second touchdown.
Maryland still had a chance with three minutes left, but Brown threw an interception into double coverage.
All Marshall had left to do was run out the clock and storm the field to celebrate, while the Terps sought solace in the future.
“We plan on building off what we have now, and what we have now, the sky’s the limit,” defensive lineman Andre Monroe said. “As long as we’re on the same page, we’re going to make it happen.”