ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland enjoyed all the perks that come with playing a bowl game. There were free gifts, guided tours and bonding with teammates to achieve a common goal.
And then it came time to actually play the Military Bowl.
The Terrapins couldn't contain Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and the formidable Thundering Herd offense Friday in a 31-20 loss that put a damper on an otherwise pleasurable experience.
Playing in their first bowl under third-year coach Randy Edsall, Maryland used a 99-yard drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Marshall (10-4) then scored one touchdown, then another, to leave the Terrapins (7-6) lamenting about what might have been.
''We had a great time at the Military Bowl,'' said Terps quarterback C.J. Brown, who went 14 for 24 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. ''Proud of the effort, disappointed with the outcome. It's just one of those things.''
The Thundering Herd trailed 20-17 before Cato brought them back. After directing a 63-yard march to put Marshall up 24-20 with 12:05 left, Cato clinched it with an 8-yard touchdown throw to Gator Hoskins with 3:42 to play.
Cato completed 28 of 44 passes - with no interceptions - to help Marshall reach double digits in wins for the first time since 2002. The Thundering Herd came in averaging 43 points per game, but its underappreciated defense played a huge role in this one.
Maryland scored only one touchdown after halftime, and A.J. Leggett followed Cato's final TD pass with an interception to set off a celebration among the huge gathering of Marshall fans among the crowd of 30,163.
Maryland closed out its association with the Atlantic Coast Conference by falling to the runner-up in Conference USA. The Terrapins will join the Big Ten next year.
Playing only 28 miles from its home stadium, Maryland - and its fans - got to enjoy all the benefits of a bowl game without all the travel.
''I was very impressed with the support that was out there in red,'' Edsall said. ''Disappointed we couldn't have a better outcome, but the support was unbelievable. Our kids had a really good time here this week.''
Brandon Ross rushed for 116 yards for Maryland, which amassed 391 yards in offense but went 2 for 14 on third down.
''The biggest thing is we kept kicking ourselves in the foot,'' Brown said. ''Hurting ourselves with penalties, a couple drops and a couple misreads. Little things like that were not helping us on first and second downs, and creating unmanageable third downs.''
Cato had a brilliant season before this game, throwing for 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns. This performance - on a national stage against an ACC foe - served as the perfect finish.
''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 99-yard march ended with a 2-yard pass from Brown to tight end Dave Stinebaugh, giving Maryland a 20-17 lead with 14:56 left.
Marshall was quick to respond. Cato completed two third-down passes, and Essray Taliaferro ran in from the 7 to make it 24-20.
Brown subsequently came up short on a third-and-5 bootleg, providing Cato the opportunity to put the game away. Although the Terrapins got the stop they needed, Cato came up big during the next series.
After completing a 28-yard pass to Hoskins on third-and-11, Cato connected with Hoskins again in the end zone. It was Hoskins' second touchdown of the game and 15th of the season, most in the nation for tight ends.
Cato went 16 for 25 for 193 and two touchdowns in the first half to help the Thundering Herd grab a 17-13 lead.
After pinning the Terrapins near their own goal line, Marshall went up 7-0 with a 37-yard drive that ended with Cato's 1-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Shuler.
Maryland answered with a 29-yard touchdown throw from Brown to Levern Jacobs, but the Thundering Herd promptly regained the lead with a lengthy march that produced an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Hoskins.
The back-and-forth duel continued in the second quarter. After Maryland kicked a field goal, Marshall got one of its own for a 17-10 lead.
Near the end of the half, Maryland moved 81 yards in 10 plays to set up Brad Craddock for his second field goal.