On fourth and three, with visiting William & Mary driving near midfield and Maryland clinging to a one-point lead with one minute remaining Saturday, the Terrapins’ defense did what it had done all Saturday afternoon: It made a stop.
Demetrius Hartsfield blitzed from the left. Jeremiah Johnson came from his cornerback position. Only one could be picked up. Johnson got to quarterback Raphael Ortiz first, Hartsfield scooped up the fumble and a defense that spent all afternoon holding firm clinched a 7-6 Maryland win in a game few thought ever should have been that close.
“Defensively it’s a matter of everyone doing their job,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “If you get everyone doing that and people swarming to the ball then you’ll be able to keep the other team from making first downs and scoring a lot of points. But we still have a lot to improve upon defensively.”
Even as quarterback Perry Hills labored through his first collegiate start, throwing two first-half interceptions that gave William & Mary excellent field position, the Terrapins held firm. After Hills threw an interception on his second career pass in the first quarter, the Tribe took over at the Maryland 34-yard line but only managed a field goal.
Later in the quarter, Hills’s second interception gave William & Mary first and goal from the Terrapins 9. Joe Vellano then blew up a run in the backfield, one of the preseason all-American’s two tackles for a loss, and the Tribe settled for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.
“Just keep everything in front of us, we were trying to say,” Vellano said. “We just hung tough. I think we got tougher as they got more towards our goal line. We were playing tough the whole time, and made some big plays on third and fourth down.
“Since Day One, we’ve been stop the run first. I think our tackles for loss were huge, because it really puts them behind schedule.
“Instead of second and nine, now it’s third and 13, and we have the advantage now. I think that’s a real step up from last year, guys playing fast. I think there’s a different energy we have.”
The Tribe finished with 229 yards of offense and never strung together a drive longer than 39 yards. William & Mary’s longest march ended on a Vellano interception early in the second quarter.
“I wish I would have kept my feet,” Vellano said. “Probably would have made it” into the end zone.
Granted, William & Mary is from the lower-echelon Football Championship Subdivision. The Tribe certainly missed its share of chances to further pick on Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle, who admitted he had one of his “roughest games ever” with three pass interference calls and a couple of blown coverages.
But holding the Tribe to just two field goals, backs against the wall and all, was cause for celebration. The front seven in defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s new 3-4 scheme brought unpredictable pressure, kept possession times near even and finally gave an offense that never really got going the opportunity it needed.
“I think they played absolutely wonderful,” Maryland wide receiver Kevin Dorsey said.
“To give up so little points and not even allow a touchdown scored, and the points they did give up, if anything, those were the offense’s fault with the turnovers putting them in a bad position.”