EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – As Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown kneeled away the game, both sides spilled onto the field en masse, hands extended and nods ready.
Good game. Good game. Good game.
From one end came Coach Randy Edsall and his Maryland football team, winners over Connecticut by a 32-21 score on Saturday night. They were greeted near midfield by some of the players Edsall left three years ago. By that point, the fans had emptied Rentschler Field, driven away by Dexter McDougle’s game-breaking interception return. At the final buzzer, everything was perfectly cordial.
“Being able to talk to some of those guys I recruited and coached afterwards, that’s what makes this game so special,” Edsall said later. “It’s not all the stuff you guys want to write about. That’s the stuff what it’s about. I appreciate them coming up and talking to me. Like I said, now that I can be the first person to win a game at Rentschler Field as the head coach at U-Conn. and a visiting coach, I established a record there, too. I’m glad my guys allowed me to do that.”
Ultimately, the Edsall Bowl II story line took a back seat, just as its namesake hoped it would. Huskies fans booed Maryland as it jogged onto the field, Edsall at the front, but what home crowd doesn’t greet its visitors in such fashion? But they largely missed Edsall’s big moment on the video board as he and fellow former Syracuse assistant Paul Pasqualoni — whose own struggles at Connecticut turned the focus away from Edsall’s return – chatted it up.
Earlier this week, Edsall told his players to forget about his return and focus on the bigger picture — remaining undefeated and avenging last season’s loss to Connecticut. They kept calling it a “business trip,” and there was no more mention of Edsall’s homecoming.
“It was unspoken,” quarterback C.J. Brown said. “Water under the bridge in terms of our case. We were coming back, they beat us last year. We owed them. That was the mentality. Come in here, first game on the road, little adversity. It was a good experience for us.”
Plenty pleasant and personally uneventful for Edsall too. After 12 seasons leading the Huskies, his middle-of-the-night, post-Fiesta Bowl departure steamed many, even years later. They circled their calendars for his return, a matchup Edsall scheduled long before he considered moving to College Park.
The reminders were still there too: the smattering of jeers that did come, the student section jabbing their foam fingers at Edsall as he jogged in from halftime, the press box jokes every time Edsall called a questionable timeout, the very first postgame question asking about a return that was overshadowed by the on-field result.
Maybe the narrative would have shifted had Maryland’s mistakes – two failed fourth-down conversions, three turnovers, numerous dropped passes including one in the end zone – proved costly. But in spite of those the Terps moved to 3-0 for the first time in 12 years, allowing Edsall to bask in his old home, this time from the opposite sideline.
“This was a very special place for me and my family,” Edsall said. “I appreciated everything that everybody did for me, and did for our family, did for the program here. When you take a look at what was accomplished, what myself and many others who were with me when I was here, what we were able to accomplish here was really something special. That’s something I’ll never forget and I’ll always be grateful for the fan support, for the backing of the administration. It’s good to come back and have another great memory here at Rentschler Field, but now it’s on the Maryland sideline, which pleases me tremendously. But these are all things you go with. I’ll never lose the memories I have here at Connecticut.”