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Maryland football defeats West Virginia in season opener, 30-24

The Terps ran away with the game in the fourth quarter to capture their first win of the new season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football was up 23-21 with about eight minutes to go in the game against West Virginia. The Mountaineers were lined up in the endzone primed to take away the lead late in the game but as quarterback Jarret Doege sailed the ball into the endzone, Maryland defensive back Jakorian Bennett jumped up and intercepted the ball giving the Terps possession while still ahead.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa then inched the team down the field 20 yards in four plays to Maryland’s 40-yard line. On third down with five yards to go, Tagovailoa stepped back and launched a pass to his left where wide receiver Rakim Jarrett caught the ball and raced into the endzone for a 60-yard touchdown to extend Maryland’s lead to 30-21.

Maryland continued to hold on to its lead and went on to win at home 30-24.

“What I was really most proud of was the playmakers in our offense and defense made the plays that were there when they needed to be made,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “And you know, that’s one area that we haven’t necessarily done that during my short term back here as the head coach.”

The energy was electric in College Park as fans filled the stands of Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium for a regular-season football game for the first time in over 600 days and Maryland football gave the fans a show early on.

The Terps started off quickly moving 47 yards down the field on their first drive after Jarrett returned the kickoff for 17 yards. Tagovailoa went 4-for-4 before throwing an incomplete pass on third down.

However, Tagovailoa and the rest of the offensive unit set kicker Joseph Petrino up for a successful 45-yard field goal that put the Terps up 3-0 about four minutes into the game.

On West Virginia’s first drive of the day, it also infiltrated the defense quickly as it moved 78 yards in just seven plays.

With three minutes to go in the third quarter, West Virginia had the ball on Maryland’s 21-yard line. On third down with three yards to go, Doege threw the ball out to the right where running back Leddie Brown was there to make the catch, race down the sideline and just hit the pylon to put the Mountaineers up.

The Terps responded to West Virginia with a successful drive of their own. After starting with the ball on the Maryland 20-yard line, running back Tayon Fleet-Davis rushed for eight yards followed by a 6-yard reception for wide receiver Darryl Jones.

With less than eight minutes to go in the first quarter on the Terps’ 30-yard line, Tagovailoa faked the handoff to Fleet-Davis, before letting the ball fly 66 yards to wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. who made the catch and marched into the endzone to put the Terps on top. The extra point by Petrino was good putting the Terps up, 10-7.

The entire drive took just 50 seconds and Demus Jr.’s touchdown catch marked the fifth straight game the senior wide receiver recorded a touchdown. That streak is the longest by a Terp since at least 1985.

“I know if I put in the hard work the accolades will come,” Demus Jr. said. “So, I felt like I just keep my head down keep what I’m doing, and who knows what I can do.”

West Virginia tried to respond but back-to-back sacks by defensive back Tarheeb Still and linebacker Deshawn Holt stunted its drive forcing the first punt of the game.

When Maryland got the ball back, it went to work. Tagovailoa moved the Terps down the field before throwing the ball off to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo for an 18-yard touchdown, extending Maryland’s lead further.

However, this time the Mountaineers were able to respond. After a 98-yard kick return that ended with West Virginia on the 2-yard line in Maryland territory, Brown ran the ball in for his second of the day with 35 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Maryland made it through the first quarter ending every drive with a score as Tagovailoa finished the first frame 9-for-11 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think the O-line did a good job of giving me time, with the play-action passes, the dropback passes and receivers run great routes, you know, made the throws easier for me,” Tagovailoa said.

Maryland started off the second quarter with a drive ending in its first punt of the day.

West Virginia capitalized on the gap Maryland left open with a 9-yard rushing touchdown, Brown’s third score of the day. With less than 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Mountaineers took the lead 21-17.

Maryland’s second drive of the quarter ended with the Mountaineers sacking Tagovailoa for a loss of eight yards on the 50-yard line on fourth-and-one.

On the next set of downs, Doege sailed one down the field, but defensive back Nick Cross intercepted the ball and returned it for 19 yards to the 44-yard line. An unsportsmanlike penalty on defensive lineman Ami Finau brought the ball back to the 15-yard line and the offensive moved from there.

After not being able to make much happen on the offense, the Terps punted the ball away. However, a fumble return resulted in Maryland’s ball on the 45-yard line. Maryland could not turn it into points as Petrino’s 51-yard field goal attempt hit the upright.

After a quick, unsuccessful drive for West Virginia, Maryland started with the ball on its own 31-yard line. Tagovailoa threw back-to-back passes to Demus Jr. for 35 yards and 12 yards, respectively, before three consecutive rushes by Fleet-Davis brought the Terps deep into West Virginia territory.

This time, Petrino’s field goal attempt was good as he brought the Terps within one, 21-20, with less than 30 seconds to go in the first half.

A game that started as an offensive battle quickly turned into a defensive one as West Virginia and Maryland started the second half exchanging punts. Both of the Mountaineers’ first two drives of the half ended with Maryland’s defense sacking Doege on third down.

The first six drives of the half ended with punts as neither team could get anything going on offense.

With about 10 seconds to go in the third quarter, freshman linebacker Branden Jennings reenergized the Terps by forcing a fumble at Maryland’s 34-yard line. Defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers recovered it and the Terps had the ball headed into the fourth quarter as the third ended without either team scoring.

Nearly six minutes later, Tagovailoa drove the Terps 58-yards down the field to set Petrino up for a successful 26-yard field goal to put Maryland ahead, 23-21.

After a slow third quarter, things picked up as after the Maryland field goal, West Virginia’s wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. returned the kickoff 48 yards. The explosive return was followed by a 39-yard completion to wide receiver Sam James.

Just as it looked like West Virginia was primed to pull ahead late in the game, Maryland defensive back Bennett picked off Doege in the corner of the endzone.

“I was just trying to make a play to change the game,” Bennett said.

Maryland started with the ball in its territory and small passes led to Jarrett’s 60-yard touchdown that put Maryland up by two possessions and ultimately led to the Terps winning their season opener.

“It was really a team effort,” Tagovailoa said. “Defense played their butts off, you know, when we needed them most, O-line did their job, everyone just did their job.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s defense made an impact. The defensive back duo of Still and Cross finished the game with seven tackles each. Still finished the game with four solo tackles and one sack while Cross had seven solo tackles, one interception, one break up and one forced fumble.

“Both of those guys are as advertised,” Locksley said about Still and Cross. “I’m really happy with their performance today.”

Linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and defensive backs Jordan Mosely and Deonte Banks finished with five tackles each. Hyppolite also had two pass breakups.

2. Taulia Tagovailoa had one of his career-best games. Tagovailoa finished the game with 332 passing yards, making it his second career game with over 300 passing yards. The first game was in 2020 against Minnesota when he threw 394 yards. Tagovailoa threw for 222 yards in the first half alone and finished the game with no turnovers.

3. Maryland continues its season-opener win streak against nonconference opponents. The last time Maryland lost a season-opener against a nonconference opponent was in 2009. The Terps fell to then-No. 12 California, 52-13. Maryland finished that season winning just three games. The Terps first beat a nonconference opponent in 201 and have since won 10 straight including this win. Maryland’s nonconference home-opener streak is the second-longest in the Big Ten behind Michigan State that has won 11 straight.