COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Call it Ralph’s Revenge. Call it the difference between Scarlet Knight and day over two halves.
Whatever the moniker, Maryland’s 41-38 loss to Rutgers in the regular season finale Nov. 29 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium was a painful blow for the Terrapins to absorb. Particularly for 22 seniors playing their final game at the storied venue.
A Maryland (7-5, 4-4) team on a feel-good first go-round in the Big Ten quite simply let this one get away, squandering a 35-10 second quarter lead. And in the second half, the Terrapin defense couldn’t get the Scarlet Knights (7-5, 3-5) and offensive coordinator and former UMD head coach Ralph Friedgen off the field when it mattered. Starting with the end of the second quarter, Rutgers scored on five straight possessions to take charge.
“That’s what hurts the most,” said running back Brandon Ross. “Knowing that we had the game in hand and all we had to do was finish it.”
Ross, who rushed for 108 yards and two scores on 10 carries, was stopped short on a key fourth-and-one late, and he didn’t lay this one at the feet of the struggling defense.
“It hurts,” said Ross, who became the first Terrapin running back over 100 yards this season. “We always look at it from an offensive standpoint and we only scored three points on the second half so we kind of feel like it’s on us.”
Throw some blame special teams’ way, too. A roughing the punter penalty may have started the Rutgers rally late in the second quarter, and a 71-yard kickoff return to start the second half threw kerosene on the fire. The Terrapins, who missed tackles, blew assignments and committed a season-high 10 penalties for 72 yards, could look a lot of places and not come up with an answer.
“I wish I could tell you, they seemed to have the answers for what we were doing,” said senior linebacker L.A. Goree of the defense. “They made the right plays when the time came to make them. They kept driving the ball down the field and we couldn’t stop them.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall was also perplexed. “No, I don’t remember anything like that. I thought where it started to change a little bit was when we got the roughing the punter call and we come out in the second half and give up the big return. We were having trouble and they were taking their time. We hurt ourselves with some penalties on offense that set us back. We kind of just lost the momentum and had a tough time getting it back.”
The Terrapins saw a chance to finish with a winning record in the Big Ten and improve bowl-positioning fade away with their momentum, too. The Foster Farms Bowl in San Francisco, tied in with the Big Ten and Pac-12 is often mentioned as a possible destination, though no bowl scouts were among the 36,673 on hand Nov. 29 at Byrd Stadium. The official announcement will come Dec. 7.
Rutgers, which had lost four of it’s last five games coming in, is also on that Big Ten bowl list and this kind of game may have jump-started a feisty rivalry between the eastern-based Big Ten squads. Penn State had already made that list, and came up again after the game.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not going to take away from the other things we’ve done this year,” said Edsall of the tough loss. “Going to Penn State and going to Michigan and beating them on the road, and the things there. Tonight is disappointing. We will live with it, but we will get better from it.”
Late Chances Slip Away
After squandering their 25-point lead, the Terrapins had two chances late to regain control. Jacquille Veii took a short kickoff back 30 yards to the 50 with 6:03 remaining. C.J. Brown, on his way to 107 yards on 13 carries, ran for five yards and then eight, but Ross got only one yard in two carries. On third down, Brown couldn’t connect with Veii along the sideline.
After a Maryland timeout, the Terrapins elected to trot Lou Groza Award Finalist Brad Craddock out for a 54-yard field goal attempt to tie the game. Craddock hadn’t missed in his last 24 attempts over two years and had 18 in a row this season. His kick on the cold night was just short and a bit left.
Rutgers took over with 3:45 remaining, but senior Cole Farrand, who had 10 tackles, laid a big hit on Robert Martin, forcing a fumble that senor end Keith Bowers pounced on at the Scarlet Knight 45 with 2:54 remaining.
“I was thinking the football gods wanted us to win,” said Goree. “When I saw the ball fly up, I was doing anything I could to pull the guys off Keith so we could get the ball for the offense.”
This time C.J. Brown dashed for 16 yards, and then Ross ran for three. On third and one, a jet sweep pass to Deon Long, went for no gain, and on fourth down, Ross was stuffed running up the middle.
“They came with a blitz from the field side and they got me in my legs and I couldn’t really drive,” said Ross.
Rutgers took over at the 36-yard line with 1:00 to play, and Maryland with just two timeouts, couldn’t get the ball back though befitting this game, the Scarlet Knights tried to take a safety but were denied by a holding penalty. One untimed down, one more kneel down and the Terrapins, particularly the seniors took home a bitter defeat with their senior plaques.
“We had opportunities there and on the third-and-one play we have to find a way to get it,” said Edsall. “On fourth-and-one we have to come off the ball and make that situation there. We didn’t. You can always look back and say we could have called this and could have called that. They are all good calls if the plays are executed, that’s the thing. We didn’t get it done in those situations.”
The Scarlet Knights opened the second half strong, dangerous Janarion Grant roaring 71 yards with the kickoff to the Maryland 25. Three plays later, Martin slammed in from a yard to make it 35-24, just 1:13 into the second half, and a lot of Maryland’s first half fireworks were starting to unravel.
The Terrapins picked up two first downs but then were forced to punt, Nathan Renfro getting off a 40-yarder. Veii drew a 15-yard interference penalty on Grant’s fair catch, setting the Knights up at the 30-yard line.
And Rutgers cashed in, quarterback Gary Nova warming up. He hit tight end Tyler Kroft for 17 yards, and then a wide-open Grant for 23 yards. Five plays later, Leonte Carroo beat Jeremiah Johnson in the back of the end zone and Nova found him. With 5:36 to play in the third quarter, Rutgers had closed to 35-31.
Nova was 28-of-42 for 347 yards, four scores, no interceptions and was sacked just once. He was 14-of-16 for 196 yards and two scores in the second half.
“They kept a lot of people in to max protect and he threw the ball quickly,” said senior defensive end Andre Monroe.
The Terrapins got some momentum back when Ross bounced outside and rambled 44 yards into Rutgers territory. The drive stalled, though, Brown missing an open Amba Etta Tawo over the middle with a high throw. Craddock came on and got a 50-yard field goal over the cross bar at 3:59, to make it 38-31, his 24th straight successful field goal, the longest such streak in the nation.
“I thought when Brad made the 50-yard field goal, I thought that would get us going a bit more,” said Edsall. “But then they went down and scored.”
A 42-yard Nova to Carroo pass and run, was the big play. Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson blitzed on the play, missed a tackle on Nova and it was Johnson who ended up making the tackle 40 yards downfield in one of the great hustle plays ever.
But Nova found Grant for 12 more yards to the 12-yard line. Three plays later, Andre Patton got behind Sean Davis and Will Likely for a 10-yard scoring pass just five seconds into the fourth quarter to tie the game, 38-38.
Patton had eight catches for 101 yards and Grant, eight for 105. Caroo caught six for 104. Likely, chasing down receivers all night, led the Terps with a career-high 12 tackles.
When Maryland got the ball back, C.J. Brown scrambled 24 yards into Rutgers territory, and completed a big third down to Wes Brown for 11 yards. A holding penalty on Andrew Zeller helped stall the drive and Maryland ended up punting, Renfro kicking it into the end zone for a touchback.
Grant zipped 24 yards on a run to start the drive, and then caught a 7-yard pass from Nova. Another 12-yard catch on third down took the ball to the 30. Nova, now with a red-hot hand, found Carroo between two defenders for 23 yards. A false start penalty helped the Terps’ reeling defense, and on third down Yannick Ngakoue pressured Nova into an incompletion, Likely in good position against Patton.
Kyle Frederico’s 25-yard field goal with 6:14 to play put Rutgers into the lead, 41-38, for the first time all day.
Nearly Perfect First Half
The Terrapins had dominated the first half, Maryland’s 333 total yards and 35 points at halftime were more than the Terrapins had compiled total in any of the last four games. The yardage and five touchdowns in a half were a season high. Not surprisingly, Maryland led 35-17.
“Everything was there, I was making the right reads, making the right checks,” said Brown, who completed 14-of-24 passes for 195 yards and two scores. “Just playing football. Coach Locks (Mike Locksley) told me to play reckless, just protect the football. ‘Play loose, this is the last time you’re going to play in Byrd.’”
Leading just 7-3 to open the second quarter, and facing a third down, the Terrapins got their longest offensive play of the late season. Brown cut it loose, hitting Amba Etta Tawo on a quick slant and the sophomore wideout split the safeties and raced 71 yards for a 14-3 lead just nine seconds into the second quarter. It was Maryland’s longest offensive touchdown since Ross’ 90-yard pass from Brown at Syracuse in Week Four.
Rutgers rallied, though, Nova orchestrating a 63-yard drive. Nova connected on a 22-yard pass to Patton, and then three plays later, found Carroo in the corner of the end zone from seven yards. With 11:16 left in the half, the Knights had closed to 14-10.
The Terrapins had a response, too, in what was evolving into a possible shootout. Ross had a 14-yard run, with a 15-yard facemask tacked on, then Brown hit Long for 18 yards. Brown went 14 more on a zone read, and two plays later Ross went through a huge hole on the right side for a nine-yard score and a 21-10 lead at 9:19.
The Terps got a stranglehold on the game when a scrambling Nova was sacked from behind by Davis and fumbled to Farrand. On the next play, Ross zipped around right end 40 yards for a 28-10 lead at 6:29.
Maryland’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and when the Terrapins got the ball back, Brown hit Long for 23 yards. On an option play, Ross was penalized 10 yards for illegally batting an errant pitch out of bounds. But behind the chains, Kenneth Goins blew through a huge hole up the middle for 16 yards, and C.J. Brown followed up with another 16-yard run.
Three plays later, Brown threw a nine-yard strike to Long in the back of the end zone, and the Terrapins were up 35-10, 2:52 before the half.
Long had seven receptions for 65 yards to pace the Maryland receivers.
A roughing the punter penalty on Goins gave Rutgers a first down near midfield on the next possession, and Nova hit Grant for 38 yards into the red zone. Likely had an interception on the goal line but a Maryland offside penalty negated the play. Two plays later, Nova hit Patton for a one-yard score with just nine seconds left in the half to wrap up an improbable 13-play, 77-yard drive.
Earlier, after Likely’s 32-yard kickoff return to open the game, Maryland smartly marched 66 yards in 11 plays, all but three plays on the ground. Brown hit a big third-and-eight to Veii for 12 yards, and then Brown rushed 14 yards. Two 5-yard completions to Long moved the ball inside the 10, Brown went seven yards around right end, and then ran an option untouched into the end zone on the next play from one yard for a 7-0 lead at 9:08.
Rutgers got a 12-yard run from Martin but then the Terrapin defense forced a punt. When the Scarlet Knights got the ball back, they showcased their running game, driving 66 yards in 10 plays, seven of them on the ground before Farrand tackled Nova on a two-yard scramble short of a first down. Federico kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 48 second left in the first quarter.
“I think the biggest thing for us was just the silly penalties and getting backed up,” said Brown of the difference in the second half. “We didn’t have as many big plays. We gashed them a couple of times in the first half and that didn’t happen in the second half.”
Maryland finished with 476 total yards, the most since the Indiana game (484). Rutgers had 491 yards, 246 yards in the first half, 245, including those three touchdowns and a field goal in the second half.
“It was a tough loss but I don’t want to base what the seniors did in our four years on this loss,” added Goree. “We did such a got job listening to Coach Edsall and turning this program around.”
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