A ghostly haze settled over Byrd Stadium on Saturday, smoke lingering from the fireworks that announced the Maryland football team’s entrance. And, after a pregame ceremony before their final home game, the Terrapins’ 17 seniors joined their teammates in jumping and yelling from within the fog.
Little else about Maryland’s home finale was shrouded in mystery. Tenth-ranked Florida State dominated from the outset, surging to a 14-0 lead after less than six minutes and rolling to an easy 41-14 win that clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title for the Seminoles and sent the Terrapins to their fifth straight loss.
Maryland, which fell to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC, was eliminated from bowl contention and will finish its season next weekend at North Carolina.
For the second straight Saturday, Maryland allowed two touchdowns within a 12-second span. This time around, Florida State (10-1, 7-1) took its opening drive 61 yards on 11 plays, marching with ease despite two false-start penalties before sophomore running back Devonta Freeman, who finished with 148 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, plunged in from five yards.
Maryland’s Levern Jacobs, filling in for freshman Stefon Diggs on kickoff returns, promptly fumbled away the ensuing kickoff at the Terps 10-yard line. Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel found tight end Nick O’Leary in the end zone on the next play.
Later in the first quarter, the Terps mustered a strong defensive series after Kenneth Tate twice sacked Manuel deep in Seminoles territory. But on the first play after Florida State punted, Maryland quarterback Shawn Petty fumbled away a stretch handoff to running back Brandon Ross. Florida State converted the turnover into a field goal and a 17-0 lead.
“You can’t give Florida State that many points early on,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said. “With what we have to try and do offensively, we can’t play from behind like that. It makes it hard. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot and turn the ball over. We have to make people go the distance and go 75 or 80 yards. When you give them a short field like we did it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
It took the Terps until the first half’s final minute to get past their 40-yard line.
Edsall had preached the need for perfection throughout the week, knowing that nothing less would suffice against the nation’s top-ranked defense. Maryland came nowhere near that and was again buried by self-inflicted wounds, a near-identical script to their blowout loss at Clemson the previous weekend. Maryland’s past 10 first-quarter drives have resulted in six punts and four fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown (and that doesn’t include Jacobs’s gaffe on Saturday).
Even the special teams suffered, with two kickoff returns negated by holding penalties, while Diggs and Nigel King kicked themselves for dropping passes on deep routes.
“It’s really hard. You can’t dig yourself a hole and expect your way to fight back easily,” senior safety Eric Franklin said. “We made it hard on ourselves today.”
The mistakes spoiled an otherwise joyous occasion for Maryland’s departing leaders, who were honored with plaques and cheers before the game. Defensive lineman A.J. Francis engulfed his entire contingent in one bear hug. Wide receiver Kerry Boykins, days removed from hip surgery, hobbled on crutches, while linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield walked under his own power, days before he, too, goes under the knife to repair a torn ACL.
Tate, also a senior, became the first Maryland player since 2002 with three sacks in a game.
“I was thinking about the last four years and playing my hardest for the other seniors on the team,” Tate said. “Today was an emotional day. I felt like it was finally my time, and it is the last time I’ll even play on this field and in this stadium. I was appreciative of all the fan support, and was happy to go out and leave it on the field.”
Maryland finally reached Florida State territory to start the second half and found paydirt on fourth and two. Flushed to his right, Petty tossed a floater over the Seminoles’ secondary to senior Kevin Dorsey, who bowled over the pylon for a 33-yard touchdown.
Dorsey also scored on a 42-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left.
“It’s something you definitely remember as your last [home] game,” Dorsey said. “But winning would have been better than anything else.”
The Terps wanted to cement a legacy, bent on adding another tombstone to the graveyard of fallen top 10 opponents that sits outside their practice facility. But Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins was the one who made history. With a 26-yard field goal nine seconds into the second quarter, Hopkins became the top-scoring kicker in NCAA history.