This time, however, N.C. State managed to score only one more touchdown as a string of defensive stands kept the Wolfpack at bay in a 41-21 Maryland win. That allowed the team’s leaders to steer the conversation toward what lay ahead: the program’s first bowl game since 2010, which the Terrapins will use as a springboard into their first season in the Big Ten in 2014.
“We’ve been through a lot here,” linebacker Matt Robinson said after the program’s final regular season ACC game. “To see us push through, go through a whirlwind season and go out on top, it feels great . . . knowing we’re not going straight back to workouts and starting the offseason right now.”
Instead, the Terps will learn their postseason destination Dec. 8. The Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis remains a possible option, but players said the euphoria felt Saturday afternoon should carry them through the uncertainty until an invitation is formally extended.
The Terps had arrived in Raleigh expecting a spirited Wolfpack team, one playing for pride on Senior Day despite seven straight losses and a winless conference record. After deferring the coin toss, Maryland allowed an 80-yard touchdown drive. Then N.C. State (3-9, 0-8) began to resemble the team that hasn’t won since Sept. 28, while the Terps (7-5, 3-5) began moving the ball with ease to solidify their bowl standing and give Edsall his first winning season as Maryland’s coach.
Brad Craddock put the Terps on the scoreboard with a field goal from 33 yards, the same distance at which he missed the potential winner against the Wolfpack last season in College Park. Over the next four possessions, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown accounted for three touchdowns, including a 53-yard jump ball to Nigel King, a Raleigh native, a 49-yard option keeper up the middle and a two-yard plunge into the end zone.
Brown churned his way to 138 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s a great feeling seeing our brothers go to work, knowing they have our back,” said defensive lineman Andre Monroe, who finished with two of the team’s five sacks. “I like to think of it like art. We put the canvas on them for them, then they go out there, stroke the pen, the brush, and make it look beautiful.”
Monroe and his defensive teammates ended three straight N.C. State drives on fourth down in the second half, two of which ended long marches and quelled any potential rally. As the Wolfpack clawed within 20 points, with quarterback Brandon Mitchell finding scrambling lanes up the middle in a hurry-up attack, NC. State’s players began jumping on the sideline, waving white towels as momentum swung their way.
“I didn’t remember the score, but I knew the situation,” Brown said. “I knew we were up big and then they started creeping back. We knew that situation. It definitely flashed through my mind.”
By the time linebacker Shawn Petty dropped Mitchell for a 15-yard loss with four minutes left, though, the defense had done enough to salvage the day. Afterward, as the Terps boarded their team bus, they began thinking about possible bowl locations, and everyone planned to start looking at the projections as soon as possible.
“To come down here and finish it like we did today I think puts an exclamation point on who these kids are and what they are all about,” Edsall said.