He could only admit this in the aftermath of victory, but Randy Edsall entered Saturday afternoon feeling nervous. As the Maryland football team’s third-year coach tried to regroup from the most lopsided loss of his career, a 63-point dumpster fire shutout at Florida State last weekend, he hoped his players would respond with focus and ferocity. Edsall felt they could, but who really knows with young players?
“I wasn’t sure,” Edsall said. “I saw things in practice this week, but with where we were and all the things that transpired going into the Florida State game, and then what happened in the Florida State game, I wasn’t sure coming into today.”
So the Terrapins needed to win Saturday, even more than they needed to validate their No. 25 national ranking in Tallahassee before the Seminoles sent them tumbling down the cliff. With quarterback C.J. Brown concussed and sidelined, a loss to Virginia would have sunk Maryland to 0-2 in ACC play and further delayed bowl eligibility. And if Edsall was worried before the Terps squeaked out a 27-26 win over Cavaliers, think about how team morale would have gone after a crushing, last-second defeat.
“The way it ended, it couldn’t have ended any better for us,” Edsall said. “Our guys kept battling. I thought they would battle, but I was very, very concerned because of what took place a week ago. Until you go back out and play again, I don’t think you ever know what will happen.”
Not even the players themselves knew as Cavs place kicker Alec Vozenilek lined up from 42 yards at the left hash mark, the rain clouds all but gone from above Byrd Stadium. The Terps bull-rushed hard, but Vozenilek – perfect on four field goal tries until that point – still got the kick off. The players hated how helpless these situations make them feel. Maryland spent all last season crushed by injury, wondering what could have happened had Brown not torn his ACL during the preseason, or if quarterbacks Caleb Rowe, Perry Hills and Devin Burns had not all suffered season-ending ailments of their own. The frustration spilled over onto their bench during games, linebacker L.A. Goree said, because they wished something would have broken for them, just once.
“Nothing’s going our way,” Goree said. “We can get hostile on the sidelines, coming down hot on each other, just because we all have the winning attitude and no one wants to lose. We’re all competitive men.”
But after the Florida State debacle, competitiveness alone wouldn’t suffice. Maryland desperately needed a win. In any manner necessary.
“It definitely showed what kind of character and heart we had as a team,” running back Brandon Ross said. “We deserve a game like this, especially after all the close losses we have in the past. It was good to have something bounce our way.”
Said Edsall: “It’s exciting because we won. That’s the biggest thing. And we know that’s probably the biggest rivalry that we have in football here at the University of Maryland. To be able to beat them for the last time [as ACC rivals], I think it’s something special. I know that we got their best game today. And we knew that we were going to get their best game because of the situation that they were in. But, it’s good to win. It doesn’t matter how you win. Just like I say all the time, any win’s a good win.”
Maryland relished in lopsided wins over Florida International, Old Dominion and West Virginia to start the season, games in which the starters could rest in the fourth quarter as the backups finished the job. The Terrapins also won comfortably at Connecticut, overcoming a season-ending injury to cornerback Dexter McDougle that cool September night.
And now? After backup quarterback Caleb Rowe’s third-and-long prayer found Deon Long between two defenders, after his 12-yard touchdown pass found a sliding Dave Stinebaugh in the end zone, after a crucial pass interference penalty set up Virginia’s game-winning attempt only for Vozenilek shank it short?
Never has ugly felt so beautiful.
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