COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As unlikely as victory seemed when the Terrapins were down by more than three touchdowns, Will Likely turned the tables with a 69-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that tied the score.
And suddenly it seemed like Maryland would win a game in which they were giving up 694 total yards, committed seven penalties and left numerous big plays on the field. Instead, it was Border Rival West Virginia kicking a 47-yard field goal at the gun to land in the catbird’s couch with a 40-37 victory Saturday at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
“It was a tough one to swallow,” said Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown. “Guys are down right now. We understand that we had the chance to win that game.”
The Terrapins (2-1) had come all the way back when Likely gathered in a punt at his own 31, saw a crease to the middle, juked a defender, turned the punter inside-out and dashed 69 yards for the score and a 37-37 tie with 9:43 left, just as the sun broke from behind clouds in College Park.
The Terrapins had been on their heels all day against the Mountaineers (2-1), who ran a whopping 108 plays –“That’s two games,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall who said college football had to do something about the length and number of plays in the game now -- and wore out a Maryland defense that actually made more big plays and stops as the game went on. That fact was a testament to the Terps’ grit and fortitude.
“We were down by a big deficit and usually teams don’t come back from that much,” said Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs. “It shows a lot of character and a lot of fight. We’ve got some leaders on this team and we just continued to push. There was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win this game.”
Maryland got a key stop when Quinton Jefferson took down quarterback Clint Trickett for a 10-yard loss a on third down after Likely’s touchdown. But the Terps couldn’t move the ball and punted back.
Maryland was just 4-of-16 on third down, ultimately a key and crippling stat. “The second half, we can’t have those three-and-outs,” said Brown, who rushed for a 161 yards on 18 carries. “We’ve got to keep our offense off the field.”
But as impressive as Brown was by ground, Trickett more than matched him through the air. He threw for career highs of 511 yards and four touchdowns, hitting 37-of-49 passes. Those yards passing were the second most in WVU history.
Trickett hit Kevin White with a 35-yard strike into Maryland territory to start a fourth quarter drive. But on a third-and-short, Terp defensive backs Jermaine Carter and Anthony Nixon nailed Wendell Smallwood for no gain. Then Darius Kilgo, who along with Likely had a huge day, blocked Josh Lambert’s 43-yard field goal attempt with 4:16 to play.
Kilgo had a sack and recovered a fumble in addition to the blocked field goal, but Likely had an interception, a forced fumble, broke up a pass, and had eight tackles.
On the next possession, Brown gained nine yards on a draw but on third down, fullback Kenneth Goins, the hero last week, was stuffed and tried to bounce out of the pile but got tackled for a 5-yard loss. Nathan Renfro’s 64-yard punt was downed at the 5-yard line but Trickett was up to his old tricks after the Mountaineers ran the ball four straight plays.
Trickett hit Dustin Garrison for 13 yards and then found Daikel Shorts down the middle for 17 to the Maryland 49. Garrison ran for 10 yards and as the final seconds ticked away. With just four seconds remaining, Lambert redeemed himself with a 47-yarder that was good as time ran out.
“You never want to end a game like that,” said C.J. Brown. “You want the ball in your hands for a last shot.”
Brown was 19-of-35 passing for 241 yards, a career-best 77-yard touchdown pass and one interception early on a deflection. He wasn’t sharp in the passing game again, though, but don’t think Edsall is ready for a quarterback controversy despite a successful cameo from backup Caleb Rowe.
“Let’s not put the blame on C.J.,” said the coach. “He might have started a hair slow but (this) is the way C.J. has to play in order to be successful. I thought he had fun out there even though he might have taken a couple of tough hits. You can see the kind of threat he is as a dual-threat quarterback with the big runs he had.”
A 75-yard touchdown run by Brown was the longest this season by an FBS quarterback. But despite so many big plays, the Terrapins were left to ponder the what-ifs in a game they had opportunities – WVU lost three fumbles, got stopped twice on fourth down attempts, threw an interception and had that kick blocked -- to register one of the more significant wins of the Edsall Era.
“The big thing we take away is that those big plays that come upon you, you have to capitalize,” said defensive end Andre Monroe, who had nine tackles and a sack.
The Terrapins got three sacks and forced the Mountaineers to run the ball more in the second half to protect Trickett. Maryland cornerbacks took away the quick screens that killed the Terps in the first half.
After 28 points in that opening half, West Virginia got just 12 in the second, and two of those were on a safety. “Everybody just looked at each other and we said, ‘It’s either us or them,’” said linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, making his third start. “We just gave as much as possible which made us get back into the game.”
Their once-22-point lead down to one in the third quarter, the Mountaineers were moving when linebacker Avery Thompson stripped the ball from tailback Rushel Shell and Kilgo pounced on it at the Terrapin 16. A sack of Brown stopped Maryland and West Virginia was driving again, this time all the way to the Terrapin 8.
On fourth down, Trickett rolled left but Monroe blew up the run-pass option, dumping the quarterback for a four-yard loss. The Mountaineers came away with points, though, when Jarrod Harper blocked Nathan Renfro’s punt out of the end zone to make it 30-27 at 6:30 of the third quarter.
After the free kick, Trickett took the Mountaineers 56 yards in eight plays, hitting Shorts from 11 yards for a 37-27 advantage at 3:53.
Brown started the ensuing Maryland possession with a 37-yard keeper on the option, a read open with the way WVU concentrated on the receivers on the outside. A 38-yard pass to Deon Long inside the 5-yard line was called back by a pass interference on Long, and then the drive fell apart. Renfro’s punt pinned WVU back at the 10, but Trickett hit Mario Alford for 34 yards and the Mountaineers were driving again until Carter and then Kilgo came up with big plays against the run, Kilgo stopping Smallwood for no gain on a fourth down.
The Terrapins made a play on the punt, though, Jacquille Veii hitting Jordan Thompson on the return and covering Thompson’s fumble at the 8-yard line. But the Mountaineers stonewalled the Terps after Brown ran for five yards on first down. Brandon Ross was thrown for a 3-yard loss and then Brown got tackled for a 5-yard loss. Brad Craddock hit a 30-yard field goal to make it 37-30 with 11:14 to play.
Beyond Brown, the Maryland running game was non-existent. Albert Reid, who started, went three times for four yards. Veii had one rush for three yards, and Ross had no yards on four carries. Wes Brown did not play, a “head coach decision,” according to Edsall.
C.J. Brown, who had been knocked from the game at the end of the first half, started the second half and showed no ill affects. Edsall and Brown both admitted he actually hadn’t been hurt but when his helmet was knocked off he automatically had to leave the game for at least a play. So he stayed down to give Rowe a little time to take a snap or two and loosen up before entering.
Brown started the third quarter option left, put his head down, ran through three tacklers and set sail on a 75-yard scoring run, the longest of his career. Just 14 seconds into the second half, Maryland had improbably closed to 28-27.
That’s because somehow by the half, the Terrapins found themselves in a game they seemed to have no business hanging around in. After trailing by 28-6, a series of unusual events saw the Terrapins creep back to within 28-20 at the break.
The first step was an NFL Films quality 77-yard Brown to Diggs touchdown strike on a play the Mountaineers seemed to forget to cover the most dangerous Terrapin. It was the longest pass of Brown’s career and the longest reception for Diggs, who hadn’t caught a pass of more than 17 yards through the first two games. The long play made it 28-13 at 5:52 of the second quarter.
“The coverages they were playing, we knew what we would get and I just tried to sell (the play fake) as long as I could,” said Brown. “To get that momentum back was huge for us.”
The next step was Maryland actually stopping the Mountaineers, something they had failed at miserably to do to this point other than a WVU fumble at the Maryland 5 in the first quarter, the only time they didn’t score their first five possessions. Trickett had the Mountaineers on the move but Likely stepped in front of a pass over the middle and came up with a huge interception.
Maryland couldn’t move the ball but the defense came up with another stop after the Terrapins punted. Ngakoue snuffed Shell for a five-yard loss on a twist up front and Nick O’Toole ended up punting to start some high-level shenanigans.
Likely, as he has been twice already this season, was interfered with on a fair catch attempt at his own 28, and the ball caromed off the offending Mountaineer, freshman Josh Woods. The ball bounded forward right to Maryland’s Alvin Hill, and Hill ran through Mountaineers and down the right sideline 63 yards for an apparent score.
After much confusion – Maryland lined up for a PAT – the officials deemed the ball, by rule of fair catch, could not be advanced. As boos cascaded down from most of the crowd of 48,154, Brown was leveled on a hit after an 8-yard run and slide, and more boos rained down. Brown had to leave with just over a minute left as Rowe took over. Rowe hit Diggs for 17 yards, and then a play later, found Veii for a 26-yard score at 44 seconds for the sophomore’s first collegiate touchdown.
“Everybody was stepping up and making plays,” said Veii. “But West Virginia was great battling back and making plays, too.”
Early on, it had been all West Virginia as Trickett hit 20-of-26 passes for 307 yards and three scores in the first half. The Mountaineers zipped down the field on their opening salvo against a shell-shocked Terrapin defense. Trickett hit Wendell Smallwood on a quick screen and Smallwood rambled 50 yards. Trickett connected with Kevin White on the same play for nine more yards. White would catch 13 balls for 216 yards.
On the 10th play of the march on a fourth down, Shell powered up the middle for a 7-0 lead at 11:33.
After Brown scrambled 14 yards for a Maryland first down, the next play saw his pass deflected by WVU nose tackle Christian Brown right to a diving Daryl Worley for an interception at the Maryland 39. The Terrapins returned the favor 10 plays later when Likely hit Alford and caused a fumble that Cole Farrand picked up at the five-yard line and returned to the 11.
The Terrapins moved the ball to midfield – Reid got 12 yards on a screen, Deon Long 13 yards on a catch, then nine more yards – but were forced to punt. Relentless West Virginia was off to the races again, moving 37 yards in four plays while overcoming a holding penalty.
On the fifth play, Trickett fooled the Terps with a play-action fake and found Alford on a post route just over the out-stretched reach of Sean Davis for a beautiful 43-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Alford had 11 catches for 131 yards and two scores.
Maryland mounted a scoring march, Brown completing 5-of-6 passes to move the ball to the WVU 28. Long had a 19-yard reception and Marcus Leak caught one for 15. But a holding penalty slowed Maryland, which salvaged a 46-yard field goal by Brad Craddock to make it 14-3 at 12:33 of the second quarter.
The Terrapin offense hardly had a drink of water, though, before West Virginia was scoring again. A 25-yard kickoff return by Shell, and then a 15-yard late hit penalty, took the ball to the Maryland 49. Three plays later, Trickett hit White up the middle and the sophomore back did the rest, eluding five Terrapins on his way to a 44-yard score to make it 21-3 at 11:51.
Having trouble with the speed of the Mountaineers on defense, as well, Maryland went to some screens and shovel passes on the next possession. Ross, who didn’t start for the first time this season, took a Brown shovel pass and went 16 yards, the biggest play of an 11-play drive that again stalled just outside the red zone. Craddock came on to hit a 41-yard field to make it 21-6 at 8:36.
Trickett was still red hot, even as the rain came down. He took the Mountaineers 89 yards in seven plays, culminating with a perfect strike to the left corner of the end zone to Alford, 36 yards for that 28-6 lead at 6:09.
“We came up one or two plays short today but I was proud of our guys to fight back the way they did,” said Edsall, who takes the Terps to meet his alma mater, Syracuse, next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. “We got ourselves back in the game to tie it up and then just could not get over the hump on third downs, offensively. It hurts. Nobody likes it.”
Ross had career highs of five catches and 50 yards. Diggs led the Terps with his first 100-yard receiving day of the season, 127 yards on five receptions. Long had four grabs for 39 yards.
Brown was one yard short of the Maryland quarterback record of 162 yards rushing set against Clemson in 2011.
Sean Davis led the Terrapins with 13 tackles, a new career high, and Alex Twine, playing for the injured L.A. Goree (back), had nine stops, as did Farrand and Monroe. Goree leads the team, averaging 10 tackles per game and had been stout in the running game. The Mountaineers’ 183 rushing yards were the most allowed by Maryland this season.
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