THE BRONX, N.Y.— With a little under six minutes remaining in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Maryland football held onto a 17-point lead with the ball on Virginia Tech’s 32-yard line. The Hokies’ defense had brought about a fourth-and-4 and the Terps decided to go for it.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa received the snap, moved around the pocket and found an open wide receiver in senior Darryl Jones, who was 10 yards away. Jones made the catch and sprinted into the end zone to pick up his second career touchdown and second of the day. As Jones got up out of the end zone, Tagovailoa sprinted over to him to jump around and give him a huge hug to celebrate the accomplishment as the lights in Yankee Stadium flashed, signaling a touchdown.
Just a quarter and a half later, Maryland rushed on the field as the Mighty Sound of Maryland played the Terps’ fight song to celebrate the 54-10 win over Virginia Tech, a turning point for the program that clinched its first bowl win since 2010.
“I actually want to talk about my 2018 class, how we came in, this was kind of our goal...kinda turn this program around so we accomplished like what we set out to do... This is the first step of many, we helped get to this step,” Jones said. “Then next year, seven, eight wins, more bowl games— it’s just gonna build on top of each other and the sky's the limit.”
The Terps had not won a bowl game in over a decade since it did so against East Carolina in the Military Bowl, 51-20. In head coach Michael Locksley’s first bowl game as a head coach, the Terps were experiencing the excitement for the first time, together as no player on the roster had played in a bowl game before the 2021 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
This roster has experienced a lot of adversity together from losing a teammate and friend in Jordan McNair in 2018 to coaching changes early on in some of their time at Maryland to the coronavirus pandemic altering last season. The bowl game victory meant not only did the Terps finish above .500 for the first time since 2014 but that the program was in the midst of a turning point.
And Maryland got off to a quick start in this one to show that it was in a place to make the jump.
After the defense forced a three-and-out for Virginia Tech, cornerback Tarheeb Still got set for the punt return. While the ball hung in the air, Still backed up to the eight-yard line, caught the ball and started sprinting down the field. He ran to his right, picked up the pace and brought it all way into the endzone for the 92-yard touchdown to put the Terps up 7-0.
“My guys blocked it real good for me so I would’ve been a fool not to return it,” Still said.
Still’s touchdown became the first punt return for a touchdown in Pinstripe Bowl history and broke the previous program record for the longest punt return in school history, breaking the previous record set by a Dick Nolan 90-yard return in 1953.
On Virginia Tech’s next drive, it moved the ball a bit more picking up a couple of first downs. However, a false start penalty on Virginia Tech brought about third-and-12 which it could not convert on, forcing special teams to punt again, something it would do three times on three consecutive drives.
To start the second quarter holding a 7-0 lead, the Terps couldn’t get anything going and soon after Virginia Tech got on the board.
After another three-and-out for the Hokies, they got in punt formation but rather than getting rid of it, punter Peter Moore kept the ball and rushed eight yards for the first down. On the second play of the fresh downs, Virginia Tech’s Connor Blumrick completed a 42-yard pass to wideout Jaden Payoute to advance deep into Maryland’s territory. After not being able to punch it into the end zone, Virginia Tech settled for a 36-yard field goal to trim Maryland’s lead to 7-3.
After running back Roman Hemby returned the ball 28 yards to Maryland’s 30-yard line, it took the Terps just 14 seconds to find the end zone again on the ensuing drive.
“We’ve got some really talented young players,” Locksley said. “Our coaches did a really good job, 15 practices, 14 practices, however many it was of really developing these guys and I think it really paid off.”
Tagovailoa dropped back and threw a pass to Jones who caught it at Virginia Tech’s 28-yard line and raced into the end zone for the 70-yard touchdown, extending Maryland’s lead to 14-3. The score marked Jones’ first collegiate touchdown.
Virginia Tech had another short drive ending in a punt and Tagovailoa and the Terps got to work.
In five plays over the span of a minute and a half, Tagovailoa moved Maryland down the field 60 yards and back into the end zone. Freshman running back Antwain Littleton II had his first two carries of the day bookending the drive. In between, Tagovailoa completed a seven-yard pass to wideout Rakim Jarrett and a 28-yard pass to wide receiver Brian Cobbs who extended with one hand to make the catch. Littleton’s four-yard touchdown capped off the drive and kicker Joseph Petrino’s extra points made it a 21-3 game.
On the next drive, the Hokies punched in their first touchdown.
After 13 plays spanning over five minutes, Blumrick kept the ball and rushed it in the middle three yards for the touchdown. The extra point closed Maryland’s lead to 21-10 with a minute left in the first half.
Maryland moved quickly on offense getting the ball to the 34-yard line as Tagovailoa completed five straight passes. With four seconds on the clock, Virginia Tech called a timeout as Petrino lined up and out of the break, the kicker nailed the field goal giving the Terps a 24-10 lead at halftime.
Tagovailoa had a strong first-half performance completing 14 of his 15 attempted passes for 192 yards and one touchdown and he did not take his foot off the gas to start the second half. In 11 plays, Tagovailoa took the Terps 63 yards down the field. The drive included a 26-yard reception from Jarrett and a 27-yard rush from running back Tayon Fleet-Davis but Maryland could not cross into the end zone resulting in a 30-yard field goal from Petrino driving the score up to 27-10.
On Maryland’s next drive, Tagovailoa moved the Terps down the field, went for it on fourth down and found Jones to give Maryland the 34-10 advantage.
“Man, this is a long time coming,” Tagovailoa said. “When you see Darryl run routes, it just pops out to you.”
A scoop and score from Greg Rose that came from a big hit from Nick Cross, forcing the ball loose, and a rushing touchdown from running back Colby McDonald in the fourth quarter further extended Maryland’s lead as it coasted to victory.
Tagovailoa finished the game completing 20 of his 24 attempted passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns along with four rushes for 42 yards.
“I hope it quiets some of the critics and maybe get a little bit of respect that I think he deserves as a quarterback. Feel like we have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if not, the country,” Locksley said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland showcased some of its younger talent. As advertised over the last month by the Terps, these practices leading up to the bowl game were meant to develop young players. Locksley spoke about how impressed he was with the effort and skill exhibited by the younger portion of this roster and that he hoped to be able to play some of them in this matchup. Against the Hokies, Littleton had two carries in the first half, including the first touchdown of his collegiate career. McDonald also added a touchdown giving fans a sneak peek at what could see in the next few seasons.
2. Maryland’s seniors were sent out the way the program hoped they would be. In addition to the bowl game opportunity being a chance for Maryland to get in more practices to start the 2022 season off on a positive note, Locksley and the team emphasized the importance of not only getting to a bowl game but winning to send the seniors out on a high note. Seniors Cobbs and Jones had four catches for 62 yards and two catches for 75 yards, respectively in the first half. Jones also added a touchdown. On the defensive end, seniors Jordan Mosely, Lawtez Rogers, Rose and Ami Finau also had a strong showing tallying six tackles, three, two and two tackles, respectively in the first half. In the second half, Fleet-Davis got his first touches of the day including a big 27-yard rush in the first drive of the frame. In the second half, Rose had his scoop and score and the seniors continued to heavily contribute en route to victory getting the send-off the team hoped to give them all season long.
3. Maryland set itself up for the 2022 season. This season was one of the best for the program in a long time and it showed promise for what the potential could be in the future. A few weeks ago, star senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. announced he would return for the season and Maryland also landed a number of strong players on the first day of the early signing period as well as from the transfer portal. Locksley discussed leading up to this game that rather than the end of the 2021 season, the Pinstripe Bowl was the beginning of the ‘22 season and if that’s the case, the Terps started out on a strong note. With the win, the Terps earned a winning record for the first time in over five years and continued to make strides as a program that they spoke about as goals all season.
“This season was a huge step for our program,” Locksley said. “But I still believe, again, that the best is ahead.”