For the second straight week, Maryland football found itself down two scores in the first quarter, in danger against an opponent it was heavily favored against. Forty-two unanswered points later, a glance at the final scoreline told a different story.
In the early stages of the fourth quarter, Virginia was down just a touchdown, sitting 12 yards away from leveling the score. But a crucial interception by Tarheeb Still flipped momentum back to the Terps, who exploded in the fourth quarter for a runaway victory.
In the 79th all-time meeting between former ACC conference-mates, the Terps bore down and finished the non-conference portion of their schedule undefeated with a 42-14 win over the Cavaliers.
“Coach just sent a message — get back on track,” Still said. “We can’t really keep starting slow, and we gotta stop [beating ourselves]. That’s what it really is and guys knew that. Guys dialed into their job and then guys went out there to finish the job.”
Maryland’s formula for late-game success was as simple as it could’ve hoped for: forced turnovers and easy touchdown drives.
After Still’s interception on an ill-advised pass by Virginia freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea, Roman Hemby punched in a Maryland touchdown on the other side of the field. Then came an interception by Donnell Brown, followed by Antwain Littleton II’s first score of the season. For good measure, Still recorded his second takeaway of the quarter to set up a Colby McDonald score.
“That’s complimentary football ... They get us the ball back and it’s our job to go put it in the end zone,” wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said.
The strong finish was a welcome sight for head coach Mike Locksley’s Terps (3-0), but a slow start put them behind the 8-ball for the second consecutive week. Last Saturday, a quick strike and defensive score gave Charlotte an early two-touchdown advantage before Maryland scored 38 unanswered points in an 18-point win.
The first quarter of Friday’s game was eerily similar. After forcing a three-and-out, Virginia (0-3) efficiently marched down the field in just three plays. Then, another successful Cavaliers drive put the Terps down 14-0 in front of their home crowd once again.
Needing a spark, Maryland found one from an unheralded source. Assuming kickoff return duties for the first time in his career, speedy freshman Braeden Wisloski fielded the ball at his own 2-yard line. Seconds later, he was sprinting untouched into the end zone, rejuvenating Maryland’s sideline when it was in drastic need of a boost.
“That return couldn’t have come at a better time for us,” Locksley said. “... I think it jumpstarted us as a team.”
Shortly after, Roman Hemby forced his way forward for a short-yardage touchdown to tie the game heading into halftime. Early in the third quarter, Tagovailoa gave Maryland a lead it would never surrender, rolling out to his right and launching a precise pass to Jones for a 64-yard score.
Tagovailoa finished with 342 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Despite a brief push from Virginia, Maryland took the game over from there and cruised through the final period to a comfortable victory on the scoreboard, but not one that inspired confidence as the gauntlet of Big Ten play looms.
“I think I have enough proof that we’re a team that’s built to overcome adversity,” said Locksley, “and I don’t think I need to see us down 14-0 anymore to know that we’re capable.”
Three things to know
1. Another sluggish start. Maryland has found itself trailing by two touchdowns in the early goings of each of its last two games. It was able to dig itself out of that hole both times, but cannot afford to do so with Big Ten play fast approaching.
2. Defensive explosion. Maryland’s defense had forced just one turnover heading into Friday’s game, but came away with four takeaways in the fourth quarter alone. Tarheeb Still had two interceptions of his own.
3. Undefeated against non-conference competition again. Maryland improved to 3-0 for the third consecutive season. The Terps have plenty of daunting games waiting for them on their Big Ten schedule, but will again enter that portion of the season without a blemish on their record.