CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the clock winding down in a game void of many points — or excitement — Maryland football had a chance to stop NC State’s offense and secure a win over its former ACC rival in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
The Terps sported a four-point lead as NC State had the ball with just over two minutes to go, looking to generate offense in a game that featured one touchdown and seven field goals. As NC State quarterback Ben Finley dropped back to pass, Maryland cornerback Jakorian Bennett jumped the lane and came down with an interception, securing the Terps a 16-12 win at Bank of America Stadium Friday afternoon.
In an ugly offensive showing in its first game since the regular season ended Nov. 26, Maryland’s two second-half field goals were just enough to outlast NC State. The Terps captured their second straight bowl win, the first time since 2002-03 they accomplished that feat.
“The execution wasn't perfect, but we did enough to win and to me that’s what it’s ultimately about,” head coach Mike Locksley said.
Whether Maryland took the “next step” that Locksley frequently discusses is up for debate, but it certainly took a step forward this season, which culminated in a bowl win for its eighth victory of the season, the most since Locksley took over and the program’s most wins in a season since 2010.
Maryland’s rollercoaster 2022 campaign featured expected wins over weaker opponents, beatdowns from Big Ten foes in Penn State and Wisconsin and potentially monumental upset bids that came up just short against two teams in the College Football Playoff: Michigan and Ohio State.
Maryland’s up-and-down season ended how it played out all year, with highs providing optimism for fans and lows leading to angst and the thought of what could have been. In the end, Maryland ended 2022 with a win, hoping the momentum of a victory will carry into 2023.
“The next step for us is to start competing for Big Ten championships and there’s some people out there that will laugh at us and they think it’s funny, but you take a Terp for granted, I promise you we’ll make you pay,” Locksley said.
Reports surfaced prior to kickoff that redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa would not start due to disciplinary reasons, which led to sophomore Billy Edwards Jr. starting the game under center. Edwards started against Northwestern earlier this season when Tagovailoa was sidelined with an MCL sprain.
“When we have things that are in house, we keep them in house,” Locksley said on his decision to start Edwards. “There was nothing malice involved in it, it was just a coach’s decision to start Billy.”
Edwards’ opening drive had promise, as he completed a 45-yard pass to senior receiver Jeshaun Jones to set Maryland up in prime scoring position. After five straight run plays, NC State sacked Edwards on fourth-and-2, resulting in a scoreless drive for the Terps.
On Maryland’s first defensive sequence, linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay intercepted NC State for his first career interception, handing the ball back to the Terps’ offense.
Maryland’s passing attack — one that has had numerous weapons depart since it last played a game over a month ago, including Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, Jacob Copeland and CJ Dippre — was shaky to start.
Tagovailoa entered the game for Maryland’s second drive and was gifted phenomenal field position on NC State’s 23-yard line. But two incompletions followed by an interception gave the ball back to NC State.
Two drives that seemingly should have yielded points left Maryland with a donut on the scoreboard. NC State marched down the field on the ensuing possession before setting up a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Maryland responded with a field goal of its own to knot the game at three apiece with a few minutes to go in the first period.
The Terps’ defense suffered only a handful of key departures from its regular season squad — safety Deonte Banks entered the NFL Draft and linebacker Ahmad McCullough entered the transfer portal — but the core of the defense was still intact for the postseason.
Maryland’s defense shut down an NC State offense decimated by injury and transfer portal departures.
Over the last month, Locksley has reiterated his belief that bowl games are not the end of the 2022 season, but the start of the 2023 one.
Maryland showed a glimpse of a youthful receiving core it will have to rely on in 2023 with the departures of a star-studded cast. Freshman Octavian Smith Jr. — who had just nine catches and one touchdown in the regular season — nailed an audition for a main role. He finished with three receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown.
As the first half went on and points were at a premium, Tagovailoa found his rhythm. the Hawaii native lofted a beautiful pass to the far left corner of the end zone that led to a contested catch from Smith in the second quarter for the first touchdown of the game, putting Maryland ahead, 10-3.
NC State responded with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that led to a field goal. Maryland’s defense failed to limit explosive plays from the Wolfpack in the first half, but its goal-line defense held strong and kept NC State out of the end zone in the first 30 minutes.
“We know as a group we have a lot of great players on that defensive side of the ball,” Bennett said. “If we just communicate, be discipline on our side... that’ll take us to where we need to be.”
Maryland entered halftime with a 10-9 lead.
The Terps gave up fewer than 10 points in the second half in eight of their 12 regular-season games this season. The trend of Maryland’s second-half dominance on the defensive end continued Friday, allowing just three points in the final 30 minutes. However, its offense hit a lull.
Even with a half under their belts, both squads looked like teams that haven't played a game in over a month, as sluggish offenses provided little excitement to the fans that made the trip to Charlotte.
The Terps and Wolfpack combined for 106 yards of offense in the third quarter. A field goal from Maryland kicker Chad Ryland were the only points in the frame.
Ryland’s game sealing field goal in the fourth quarter were the only other points in the second half, but thanks to clutch defense Maryland ended its season with a win.
“You saw a group of guys that kind of put their personal things aside to do something for a greater cause and where we were when I took over in 2019 to where we are today, I mean Ray Charles can see it,” Locksley said.
Three things to know
1. Locksley’s dominance in nonconference play is notable. Maryland’s win over NC State was its first win over an opponent ranked by the Playoff Committee. Entering Friday, Maryland was 0-15 against teams ranked by the committee, the most losses without a win by any team in that span. The win over its former ACC rival solidifies a run of dominance by Locksley against nonconference competition. Maryland has won eight straight nonconference games — Locksley’s sole loss against a non-Big Ten opponent came against Temple in 2019. While the next step for this group is to beat ranked Big Ten opponents, Maryland’s success outside of its loaded conference is noteworthy.
2. Tagovailoa turned to some familiar, and some not so familiar, weapons. All eyes were on Maryland’s receivers entering the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Prior to the season, Maryland’s receiving room was touted as one of the best in the country. Although they certainly did not live up to incredibly high expectations, there was no doubt of the talent Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Jacob Copeland possessed. All three receivers entered the NFL Draft and none participated in the bowl game on Friday. Maryland also lost tight end CJ Dippre to the transfer portal, who emerged as a reliable pass catcher for Tagovailoa throughout the season. In their absence, Tagovailoa relied on Jeshaun Jones, perhaps his favorite weapon, who finished with four catches for 79 yards. Octavian Smith Jr. and Tai Felton — two weapons Tagovailoa will need to step up next season — filled the void on Friday. They combined for seven catches and 103 yards.
“He came in and he's kept his head down and worked every day since he got here,” Jones said about Smith. “He’s a hard working guy and I feel like it’s just great to see this happening for him.”
3. Maryland finishes the 2022 season 8-5. Time will tell if history looks back on this Terps’ season kindly. It’s reasonable for fans to look back on this season and realize more than eight wins was attainable, but the reality is for a program that won just three games in Locksley’s first year, winning eight games only three seasons later is a remarkable feat, and one that should be celebrated. Back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in two decades and the Terps’ most wins since 2010 gives Maryland momentum heading into the 2023 season. While the Terps are not yet a contender in the Big Ten, they are relevant after irrelevancy and controversy plagued the program for years.