PHILADELPHIA — The sounds reverberated from the visitors’ locker room into the makeshift media center, deep in the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field, claps and cheers from a Maryland football team ecstatic it had at once executed payback and finally closed out a win.
The relief that remained from the 23-point halftime lead kept fading away, Temple sapping momentum with forced turnovers and deep pass plays. Memories surfaced of last year’s finale against North Carolina State, which followed a similar, collapse-centric script.
Yes, Maryland was both sloppy and resilient Saturday. The Terrapins entered fueled by the beating they took by the Owls at home last season, endured thanks to Perry Hills, Stefon Diggs and a veteran front seven that never allowed the Temple ground game to get going, and sealed a 36-27 win with the legs of running back Justus Pickett, who says he’s actually strongest in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t sense any panic settle in on the sideline. I think our kids were confident the whole way,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “They believed. They didn’t think anything was happening other than us winning the ballgame.”
Nothing did. Maryland is 2-0. The Terrapins have equaled their 2011 win total, and took a giant step forward in notching their first road victory since Nov. 13, 2010 and earning their first win against an FBS opponent since they beat Miami on Sept. 5, 2011.
With these wins will come road bumps, that’s certain. Perry Hills threw three interceptions in the opener and the Terps still won 7-6. Saturday afternoon, Hills, Diggs and Wes Brown (twice) each lost fumbles. Through two games, all eight of Maryland’s turnovers have come from true freshmen.
“It’s going to happen,” Hills said. “Like last game, you just have to learn from it and not make the same mistake twice. You just have to get in there, watch film, and put it behind you.”
Temple, never known for succeeding through the air — in fact, the Owls had just 34 total yards at halftime, including one yard on 13 plays in the second quarter — strung together passing touchdowns of 62 and 35 yards that chopped the lead to 29-27 with 7:04 left in the fourth quarter. On the former, a bomb from Chris Coyer to C.J. Hammond, both Sean Davis and Dexter McDougle bit hard on play-action and got beat over the top.
“The offense coordiantors we play, they’re going to go after the young guys because they don’t have as much experience,” said A.J. Francis, who had a sack, a fumble recovery and a crucial blocked field goal. “A lot of times, mistakes are made, and we just have to fight through them.
“The fact that we went two games with a true freshman at safety [Davis], and we’ve pulled both wins, his experience level has shot through the roof. Even if the guys aren’t ready to come back, Sean will be back there still, and he’ll hopefully he able to play at a high level. That’s what you want out of the young guys.”
Albeit inevitable given the collective age of their team according to the Terps, these errors were nullified when it mattered. Hills, who finished with 204 total yards and three touchdowns, engineered a 75-yard scoring drive deep in the fourth quarter, extended by two third-down conversion passes — one of eight yards to Kevin Dorsey and another of 38 yards to Diggs — and capped off by a seven-yard touchdown run by Pickett, who had the winning touchdown from six yards against the Tribe and is flashing the power to go along with his backfield experience.
“They found a way,” Edsall said. “We persevered. And boy, if you can persevere, you can be pretty successful in whatever you do.”