Clemson 10, Maryland 7
Their season in tatters, the Maryland Terrapins departed Death Valley on Saturday wondering whether all hope of turning their year around had rested on one game, one drive and one controversial call by a field judge.
Hindsight hardly mattered after the Terps' third straight defeat. Maryland lost to Clemson, 10-7, before an announced Memorial Stadium crowd of 78,000. Maryland (3-4, 1-3 ACC) enters its toughest portion of the schedule still needing three more wins to become bowl eligible.
With 23 seconds remaining Saturday, Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard run by tailback Reggie Merriweather after a pass interference call had given the Tigers a first down at the Maryland 2. After the game, as officials exited down a narrow corridor, Maryland partisans shouted, "Watch the tape, ref!" and worse.
The play they referenced had occurred moments earlier, on third and goal from the Maryland 4. Terps cornerback Gerrick McPhearson played inside coverage on wide receiver Kelvin Grant, expecting a fade pass but positioning himself to defend the slant route as well.
The 6-foot-2 Grant made contact with the 5-10 McPhearson, who nearly intercepted quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's fade pass, but it was unclear whether McPhearson had earlier interfered with Grant.
"You know I can't comment on those [calls]. What did you think of it?" Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said, adding later, "There were four calls over there, four by that guy [official], and he didn't come over to my sideline."
McPhearson said the only contact he made with Grant was on legal press man coverage and that Grant grabbed his arms, denying him an interception. McPhearson added that field judge Ronnie Stewart, who made the call, "gave me a nice smile" while McPhearson lay on the ground.
Grant, asked afterward if he thought pass interference occurred on the play, said, "I have to see the film to make an accurate [assessment]." Asked one minute later if he was surprised to see a penalty flag thrown, Grant said: "I knew there was going to be a flag. I figured it was going to be on him. He had the inside position on me, so I had to battle for it a little more."
The call was McPhearson's second pass interference citation and the third important ruling involving the junior. At the start of the fourth quarter, Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth rattled the ball loose from Whitehurst, who had scrambled for nine yards to the Clemson 22. McPhearson nearly recovered the fumble, but officials ruled he did not have possession when he stepped out of bounds.
"What bothered me on that one," Friedgen said, "was the guy said we had the ball and then he changed his mind."
The defeat overshadowed an improved performance by Maryland quarterback Joel Statham, who completed 14 of 31 passes for 111 yards and played with "rhythm and confidence," according to Friedgen. The Terps finished with 194 yards of total offense, a relative deluge after being held under 100 yards in each of its past two outings.
Statham, however, threw two interceptions, the second of which came in the game's final seconds, and misfired with three minutes remaining on a deep pass down the middle to an open Jo Jo Walker. "I just missed that by a little bit," said Statham, who had fumbled the snap. "If we had that, it might have been the ballgame."
Maryland ended the game with two three-and-outs and a turnover.
"To me, we have this game," Friedgen said. "All we have to do is make two first downs and the game is over."
The Terps grabbed first-quarter momentum after David Holloway rushed from the outside and blocked a punt, giving Maryland possession at the Clemson 17. Six plays later, running back Josh Allen ran off right tackle for a one-yard touchdown.
Maryland endured two setbacks in the second quarter: Nick Novak missed a 38-yard field goal attempt, and Derrick Fenner, the team's leading receiver who had already caught four passes for 35 yards, left with a left ankle injury that required X-rays. Friedgen, asked how Fenner's absence affected the offense, said: "I don't know; it hurt that we lost a player. But I don't know how much he was doing to help us anyway."
Clemson (3-4, 2-3) began its winning drive on its 42, staring down a defense that had contained it all day and at times caused the crowd to boo the Tigers' offense. But Whitehurst, who threw for 170 yards, completed four passes on the eight-play drive.
"Those guys don't deserve to lose," Maryland center Kyle Schmitt said of the defense. "They don't deserve to be 3-4."