There were big runs, big passes, big kicks and big stops. There were penalties and mistakes. There were points — so many points. There was dominance. There was hopelessness. There was a fourth-quarter charge. There was overtime.
And at the end of the night, a missed extra point gave Maryland football a stunning 45-44 victory over Minnesota in College Park, Md., Oct. 30.
“Great team win — [I’m] proud of this team,” head coach Michael Locksley said after the game. “It’s a character win for us, and it’s one hopefully we can use to build upon.”
Just six days ago, the Terps crumbled in all parts of the game in a 43-3 loss at Northwestern. Maryland mustered just 207 yards of hapless offense that evening. But the Terps were firing on all cylinders on this Friday night, racking up 675 yards on just 66 offensive plays (10.2 yards per play). It was enough to overcome Minnesota’s running attack, a turnover disparity, gut-punch penalties and questionable situational decisions. It was enough to deliver Maryland’s first win in 381 days.
Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa turned in a performance unmatched by any Maryland quarterback in a decade. He, too, shook off a disastrous debut in emphatic fashion. Tagovailoa completed 26 of 35 passes for 394 yards — the first 300-yard game by a Terrapin quarterback since Caleb Rowe in 2013, and the program’s highest total since Danny O’Brien in 2010. Tagovailoa threw three touchdowns and was picked off only once. And he peppered in 59 rushing yards on eight attempts, scoring twice (once from 39 yards out).
“He’s really special. You can see it when he plays, you can see it when he practices — he’s just a really special kid,” junior defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers said of Tagovailoa. “I’m really happy for him, and I’m really glad he was able to bounce back from last week.”
It was also a career night for senior running back Jake Funk, who ripped off 221 yards on 21 carries, both far and away career highs, in addition to three receptions for 22 yards. He scored once on the ground and once through the air; with the win, Maryland moved to 8-0 in games with a Funk touchdown.
“I was seeing open holes,” Funk said. “The five linemen up front did a great job, the tight ends … and also the receivers down the field. It was a collective team effort; I’m just the one who gets credit for the rushing yards.”
The wide receiver group shined as well, making tough catches and highlight-reel plays all night. Dontay Demus led the way with seven catches, 101 yards and a touchdown, while Jeshaun Jones’ 76-yard score in the first quarter allowed him to finish with 103 yards on just three receptions. Rakim Jarrett had six catches for 68 yards, Brian Cobbs had four for 52 and Darryl Jones had three for 48.
All of that almost wasn’t enough.
Maryland jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter with scores on its first three drives, highlighted by Tagovailoa’s 39-yard touchdown run down the sideline and Jeshaun Jones’ 76-yard score on the following possession. But the Terps struggled to stop Minnesota on the other end. After going three-and-out on their first drive, the Golden Gophers scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions to take a 28-21 lead into the half.
All four of those touchdowns were scored by running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who was the story of the half. A local product from Good Counsel High School, the senior tallied 130 yards on 21 carries. Minnesota ran 27 times in the first half while throwing just five passes, but Maryland couldn’t stop it.
Two Terps mistakes in the third quarter threatened to put the game out of reach. On Minnesota’s first drive of the second half, defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty turned what would have been an upcoming third-and-14 from the Gophers’ 45 into a first down at Maryland’s 40. Two plays later, quarterback Morgan found Chris Autman-Bell for a 39-yard touchdown to make it a 14-point game.
Maryland got down to the 1-yard line on the ensuing drive, but handed the ball to freshman Peny Boone at the goal line. He fumbled it, and Minnesota recovered in the end zone for a touchback. The Golden Gophers marched 73 yards down the field in 13 plays before settling for a field goal to make it 38-21.
Then Maryland flipped the switch. Tagovailoa engineered a 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 15-yard strike to Demus. Kicker Joseph Petrino drilled a 51-yard field goal, by far a career long. Funk tied the game with a 19-yard touchdown two plays after a 33-yard scamper. And the defense forced three straight punts, allowing just 18 fourth-quarter yards. Maryland actually had a chance to win in the final minute, but an offensive pass interference call against Jeshaun Jones stalled the drive, and instead of attempting a last-second Hail Mary or field goal from the 45, Locksley opted to bleed the clock and send the game to overtime.
The overtime drives were mirror images of each other. Both teams got a first down, then drew a pass interference call on a third-down pass to the end zone, then scored two-yard touchdowns one play later. Tagovailoa dove for the pylon to put Maryland on top, then wildcat quarterback Seth Green plunged through the middle for the answer.
But then formality became tragedy. Minnesota kicker Brock Walker shoved the extra-point attempt wide right. The Maryland celebration was on, and the Gophers stood still and watched in disbelief.
And just like that, the Terps were 1-1. Their eight-game losing streak, which dated back more than a full year and included a 52-10 defeat at the hands of these Gophers, was over. Maryland had won as a 19.5-point underdog. Six days after turning in the most emphatic dud of Big Ten opening weekend, the Terps had a win. Because just when something in college football seems like a certainty, there’s always room for chaos.
Maryland visits Penn State next weekend and hosts Ohio State after that. The Terps will be heavy underdogs in both contests, even after the events of Oct. 30. Wins will still be tough to come by in this conference. But in prime time on ESPN as the only power-conference game of the night, Maryland showed the country what it’s capable of.
– It’s hard to overstate how much of an outlier Tagovailoa’s performance is in the last decade of Maryland football quarterbacks. That seven-year drought without a 300-yard passer was fourth-longest in the country — behind Georgia Tech, Army and Georgia Southern, three triple-option teams. When Tagovailoa threw for just 94 yards with three interceptions Oct. 24, it looked like more of the same. But this was different. This was special. This was the kind of showing that can change fans’ perceptions for multiple seasons to come.
– Maryland won in overtime despite questionable decisions by head coach Michael Locksley in both halves. With the game tied at 21 and a bit more than five minutes remaining before halftime, Maryland faced a fourth-and-2 at Minnesota’s 43-yard line. That’s prime go-for-it territory, but the Terps punted. It was a fine punt — fair-caught at Minnesota’s 9 — but the Golden Gophers made up the field position with one 33-yard run and needed only five plays to take a 28-21 lead. And then, with a timeout in hand in the final seconds, Locksley had the option to set up one final play for the win. He declined to give his team that chance, instead letting the clock bleed out in regulation.
– For most of the night, Maryland’s defense had no answers for Minnesota’s offense. The Golden Gophers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions, then went up three scores with a seven-minute drive ending in a field goal. The Terps simply couldn’t get into the Minnesota backfield, meaning the running backs had space and Morgan had time to throw (to consistently open receivers, no less).
But after a stout fourth quarter, there’s reason for optimism about this unit. Junior linebacker Chance Campbell had 13 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and Maryland’s first sack of the season. Freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still held his own against star wideout Rashod Bateman. Junior defensive end Lawtez Rogers and safety Jordan Mosley had strong outings. Penn State and Ohio State could still have their way with this unit, but there’s promise across the field.
That’s really the story of Maryland as a whole, too. The Terps have young talent in the building and a strong recruiting class on tap, but have often looked overmatched. On Oct. 30, Maryland was ready for the fight.
“We preached to our team that we’re not gonna be a team that watches the scoreboard — we’re gonna play to a standard, we’re gonna play with the effort and the habits and behaviors necessary to win, and if you do those things, winning takes care of itself,” Locksley said. “What I learned most [tonight] is that they’re listening. I didn’t see us flinch when we were down. I didn’t see us get overly excited when we were up, and that’s the type of team we’re gonna have to be.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics