After falling behind by eight, Maryland football rattled off a methodical drive and had just a two-point conversion standing between it and forcing overtime against Purdue.
Redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa rolled to his right, seemingly with nobody to throw to. Miraculously, he found junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 31 — or so it seemed.
However, flags flew out of the referees’ hands, negating the successful try with an ineligible player downfield penalty.
The subsequent try saw Tagovailoa send the ball over his receivers’ heads, sailing incomplete and effectively sealing the game.
“[Senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones] did a good job of, you know, running the back endline. Just threw it too high for him,” Tagovailoa said. “Stuff like that, wish I could get those back.”
In heartbreaking fashion, the Terps fell to the Boilermakers in College Park on Saturday, 31-29, in a game marred by controversial calls. Both teams now sit at 4-2 on the season.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win this game on the field with our play, without all the other stuff that I’m sure everybody wants to talk about,” Locksley said.
Despite the final result, the Terps got off to the best start they could’ve asked for. Purdue received the opening kickoff but fumbled a pitch play on the first play from scrimmage, losing 13 yards and punting three plays later.
Maryland quickly turned that opportunity into points, marching down the field in fewer than two and a half minutes for a touchdown. A six-play, 69-yard drive was capped off by a nine-yard rush by Tagovailoa on a read option.
“We always want to start fast,” Tagovailoa said. “That gives the defense, you know, motivation and stuff like that, especially with them stopping them early in the game.”
Purdue’s response was far more methodical, going down the field for a field goal. Fifth-year kicker Mitchell Fineran had to kick from 40 yards out instead of 30 after a holding call, but he still split the uprights to make it 7-3 with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Then, interceptions — both caught and dropped — put the Terps behind.
On a third-and-5 from his own 30-yard line, Tagovailoa lofted a ball into double coverage that was unsurprisingly picked off.
Just a few plays later, Purdue sixth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell went unpunished for similarly putting the ball in harm’s way. His receiver’s route was jumped by Maryland senior defensive back Jakorian Bennett, but the ball slipped through Bennett’s hands, falling into the awaiting grasp of Mershawn Rice to set up first-and-goal for the Boilermakers.
The mistakes piled up for the Terps on the drive, as a penalty for having 12 men on the field negated a third-and-goal incompletion, allowing Purdue junior running back Dylan Downing to punch in a one-yard score to start the second quarter.
Until the waning moments, it looked like the first half was going to be another one plagued by costly penalties and an inability to slow down an opponent’s passing offense for the Terps. O’Connell was clinical in the opening 30 minutes, going 17-of-22 for 173 yards through the air, including a perfectly-placed back-shoulder toss to Rice in the end zone, which gave the Boilermakers a 17-10 lead — Maryland senior kicker Chad Ryland made a 46-yard field goal on the prior drive.
Terps head coach Mike Locksley, who has at times been criticized for his unwillingness to use his timeouts in the first half, saw an opportunity to get the ball back and used two timeouts to get possession back with 41 seconds left, giving his offense an opportunity to put points on the board.
Evidently, sophomore tight end Corey Dyches had similar aspirations and wasn’t going to let anything get in his way, not even a six-foot-three, 215-pound Cory Trice, who was on the coverage for Purdue.
Stepping up in the pocket, Tagovailoa sent a deep ball downfield to a wide-open Dyches that had been forgotten about by Purdue’s secondary. Trice managed to catch up to him and begin to wrap him up, but Dyches dragged him 15 yards and reached the ball over the goal line for a touchdown that tied the game at 17 heading into the half, electrifying the crowd of 36,204 at SECU Stadium.
“Great, drawn-up play,” Dyches said. “I just happened to be open and Lia threw a great ball. Like I said, you get inside the 20, you gotta get into the end zone. Just make the best of your opportunities.”
Dyches’ touchdown seemed to give Maryland a jolt of momentum that it desperately needed. After a flat first half, Maryland’s defense came out in the second on fire — a trend this season. The Terps forced three consecutive turnovers to start the half and allowed no points in the third quarter, putting a struggling offense on its back.
“It’s not about what they do, it’s about us executing our offense,” Tagovailoa said of the unit’s struggles.
“Our defense did a great job of getting into those third-and-longs,” Locksley said. “... It was great to see [Durell] Nchami show up today and Jaishawn Barham is one of those guys that has a natural pass-rush ability so we implemented him in that package, and, you know, made some plays for us when we needed them.”
Nchami and Barham both forced fumbles in the third quarter, with Bennett coming up with an interception to complete the trifecta of takeaways.
Later in the quarter, the Terps finally broke through on the offensive side of the ball. Maryland moved its way down the field, setting up inside the red zone, and redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby took it from there, catching a screen pass and scampering 11 yards for a touchdown to give Maryland a six-point lead.
The Terps’ ultra-reliable senior kicker Chad Ryland came on the try the extra point, which had been nothing more than a formality to this point — he hadn’t missed one in two years. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick left Ryland’s foot cleanly.
But, it didn’t split the uprights. A Purdue player swatted the kick away, keeping it a six-point game. One of his teammates had jumped offsides before the kick, but the officials didn’t throw a flag and the play stood.
The Boilermakers took advantage of their lucky break and took the lead on their next drive. O’Connell led his team down the field for a 10-play, 66-yard drive that culminated with a four-yard touchdown reception by senior tight end Payne Durham.
Redshirt freshman running back Devin Mockobee added some insurance with a short touchdown that gave Purdue an eight-point lead, which proved to be just enough to hold off a Maryland rally.
The Terps will look to get back in the win column next Saturday at Indiana.
Three things to know
1. Controversial calls loomed large again. For the third consecutive week, questionable calls by the officials had Maryland fans in a frenzy. Against Michigan, the Terps had multiple interceptions that appeared to hit the ground but were still awarded to the Wolverines. Against Michigan State, a pick-six was waved off after Maryland was called for a personal foul. Maryland was able to fight through those calls, but against the Boilermakers, they fell just short.
2. Maryland’s defense stepped up again in second half, but the Terps couldn’t capitalize. Defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ unit once again come out with a vengeance in the second half, forcing three straight turnovers to start the third quarter. On each of the following offensive drives, the Terps couldn’t muster anything — turning it over on downs, punting and missing a field goal. The Terps did allow 14 fourth-quarter points, but their failure to turn a third-quarter shutout into anything on the scoreboard was the difference.
“I don’t think we got points on any of those turnovers and those are just critical that we come away with some points when we get turnovers like that, especially on their side of the field,” Locksley said.
3. Maryland’s discipline problem resurfaced against the Boilermakers. Penalties have been a theme all season for Maryland. After the Terps picked up a season-high 15 penalties against SMU, they followed it up with a clean one-penalty performance against Michigan. Seemingly cleaning up its discipline issue, Maryland supporters believed the penalty problems were in the rearview for Maryland. However, against Purdue, they resurfaced. Maryland committed nine penalties that cost it 75 yards, including a huge one on the first two-point conversion play that Maryland converted. The flag reversed the conversion and Maryland failed to score on the second attempt, effectively ending the game.
“They have an impact on every part of the game and none was bigger than another,” Locksley said. “Penalties are penalties.”