Maryland football’s 2018 has been one unpredictable twist after another, but Saturday almost topped everything that came before it.
The Terps weren’t supposed to beat Texas in the season opener after a tragic, turbulent offseason. They weren’t supposed to get bulldozed by Temple two weeks later. Their early performances in conference play were either better or worse than what should be in the realm of possibility. And after losing two straight games with bowl eligibility on the line, they definitely weren’t supposed to put up much of a fight in their last two games against Ohio State or Penn State.
For Maryland to turn around and earn the all-important sixth win against the Buckeyes? On senior day? With Tyrrell Pigrome—the quarterback who’s on the roster because Dwayne Haskins flipped his commitment to Ohio State—leading the offense?
It was too good to be true.
The Terps scored touchdowns of 81 and 75 yards in the first six minutes on Saturday. They led 17-3 after one quarter and held seven-point leads after the second and third periods. They were ahead in the final minute and didn’t trail until overtime. Maryland forced three Ohio State turnovers, which was almost enough to overcome the Buckeyes racking up 153 more offensive yards (688-535 overall, 663-510 in regulation). Almost.
Ultimately, it came down to one play. And Pigrome missed an open Jeshaun Jones in the end zone on the deciding two-point conversion. It wasn’t as simple as it looked—Pigrome was sprinting to his right, and Jones drifting in the same direction might prompt a different outcome—but the result is black-and-white. Maryland missed its chance.
Ohio State won 52-51. Haskins threw for 405 yards and three scores and added three more touchdowns on the ground in his homecoming. Maryland is still stuck on five wins with one game remaining.
“We are distraught right now at this point,” senior linebacker Tre Watson said after the game. “There is no words that can reconcile what happened to us. I’m sure you can go down the line of every guy that played in that game, they feel there’s one play that they wish they could have back. I know personally, there are several that I feel could have made the difference for the game. ... There’s no way to overcome what just happened. It’s awful. There’s no other way to put it.”
Saturday’s game was the last at home for Maryland’s senior class, which has had an incredibly tumultuous time in College Park. The Terps’ four- and five-year players (plus sixth-year senior Taivon Jacobs) have played for two head coaches and two interim coaches. They’ve lost a teammate. They’ve seen promising seasons derailed by injuries. But two wins over Texas have been a bright spot, and an upset Saturday would have been a sendoff for the ages.
But sports don’t follow a script. Not every up-and-down story can end on a high note. Just as this team was unified in exaltation following its Week 1 victory, it’s unified in frustration now.
“I think this season, we’ve all learned more than anybody could have ever imagined,” interim head coach Matt Canada said. “We’ve learned how you can stick together. We’ve learned how to believe in each other.”
Maryland visits Penn State next weekend for the season finale. The Nittany Lions have been far from invincible this season, but a Terps victory would still be an upset, especially since they were on the wrong end of a 66-3 drubbing in this same matchup last fall. But that outcome seems a little more possible now than it did before Saturday. Maryland needs one win to extend its season, and the Terps played like it against the Buckeyes.
“Credit our guys because they didn’t quit,” Canada said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, something bad happens and Maryland’s gonna do this, or Maryland’s gonna do that.’ Well, Maryland didn’t do that.
“The story’s our players. It’s always our players, how hard they play, how hard they play together. ... It’s a tough day. We put a lot into this. We put a lot into a week, we put a lot into winning football games. It’s tough to lose, but I’m not gonna lose sight of how special they are and how hard they play.”