"The Drive" not enough for Maryland in Military Bowl loss

"The Drive" not enough for Maryland in Military Bowl loss
December 27, 2013, 8:00 pm
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What did Terps overcome to reach Military Bowl?

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

ANNAPOLIS--It was almost perfect. Seventeen plays covering 99 yards in the span of seven minutes and 44 seconds. Maryland’s drive that ate literally half of the third quarter and the early seconds of the fourth was exactly what the team needed at that point on Friday evening in Annapolis.

Trailing 17-13 to Marshall in the Military Bowl at Navy Marine-Corps Stadium, the Terrapins simultaneously controlled the ball, wore down the Thundering Herd defense, worked toward points, and kept the ball out of Rakeem Cato’s hands, the Marshall quarterback who had torched Maryland’s defense throughout the night.

A rollout by Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown and two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dave Stinebaugh put Maryland ahead 20-17, momentum on their side in front of 30,163 fans with 14:56 to play in the game.

That was supposed to be the turning point. Time after time starting their possessions started inside their own five-yard line because of impressive Marshall special teams, and like a boxer who has to get up after every knockdown, Maryland finally landed one on the chin in return.

“When you have a 17-play drive for 99 yards and get a touchdown, it definitely swings the momentum,” Brown said. “That was a big start for us.”

But Marshall’s response was crushing. The Thundering Herd barely staggered, instead swinging back with a touchdown of their own in a quick 2:51 to retake the lead, 24-20. That would be a lead they would never relinquish in a 31-20 victory.

[RELATED: Analysis of Maryland's 31-20 Military Bowl loss to Marshall]

It was as swift a response as Marshall could have hoped for, bouncing off the ropes as if the previous eight minutes they themselves were simply just resting and waiting to fight back.

“They did a very good job of answering right away,” Brown said. “That’s definitely going to kind of sink the ship right there.”

And sink, the ship would. Another stalled Maryland drive gave Marshall the ball back at midfield and the Thundering Herd marched methodically again, scoring the game-sealing touchdown before intercepting a pass on the next Maryland possession and all but sealing it.

Friday night was the story of Maryland’s 2013 season, too, always facing a long field due to injuries but late in the season making a triumphant push to reach bowl eligibility. But it all ends like this, a loss in the Military Bowl just a half hour from the school’s campus to a high-scoring and electric Conference USA team that will send the program off into the sunset.

Perhaps this ends up laying the groundwork, but it feels so much like an uphill battle. Three years of rebuilding brought Maryland from the 2010 Military Bowl to the 2013 Military Bowl, a coaching change and a set of painful losing seasons in between.

Next season begins the new test, a new conference but likely a very similar set of players. It was enough for head coach Randy Edsall to spend time explaining it in his postgame press conference, his longest answer of the night.

“What these young men fought through all year long with the adversity and the … injuries that we had, for them to just continue to battle and go out and play,” Edsall said. “This group to me is a really special group … Now they understand that they believe in themselves.”

And so, unofficially, begins Maryland’s foray into the Big Ten.