CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — It began with two North Carolina touchdowns, on short drives of 42 and 31 seconds that had the chilled Tar Heels faithful at Kenan Stadium thinking easy win. After all, the Maryland football team had dug deep first-quarter holes in its November losses to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. The Terrapins appeared destined for another blowout, a sixth straight loss to close the season.
Then something miraculous happened for these Terps, wrecked by injuries and misfortune, insistent on departing 2012 on a high note. First, it was a 10-play, 66-yard drive capped off by Brandon Ross’s one-yard touchdown run, a series kept alive by a crucial 15-yard Tar Heels penalty. Two possessions later, on third and three from the Maryland 27-yard line, Ross turned upfield for a 71-yard burst down the North Carolina sideline, setting up a three-yard bootleg keeper by quarterback Shawn Petty on the next play that tied the score up at 14-14.
The Tar Heels, ineligible for a bowl game due to self-imposed sanctions, stormed back on senior day, marching 63 yards on 12 plays, finishing on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bryn Renner (West Springfield) to A.J. Blue.
Bent but not broken, the Terps responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive, which almost never got started after a holding penalty on Matt Furstenburg that backed them up to first and 17 from their 18-yard line.
But wide receiver Nigel King, who stepped into a starting role after injuries ravaged Maryland’s receiving corps, hauled in a twisting, one-handed Petty pass in North Carolina territory on third and 14, and later brought the Terps into the red zone with another reception. On second and seven, Stefon Diggs took a reverse towards the far sideline, wheeled on his back foot and found Furstenburg in the end zone.
With 21 seconds left in the half, freshman Brad Craddock squibbed the ensuing kickoff, which skipped high, bouncing off North Carolina hands, finding the arms of Maryland freshman Anthony Nixon. On first down, Petty found Kevin Dorsey streaking over the middle, and the senior captain did the rest, tumbling head-over-heels into the end zone for a 28-yard score that gave Maryland a 28-21 lead entering halftime, their first lead since the Boston College game on Oct. 27, and leaving the powder-blue souls in the stands absolutely stunned.
A Terrapins offense that hadn’t topped 300 yards since the Boston College game now finds itself with 304 total yards at the break. Brandon Ross has reached the 100-yard mark for the second time in his past three games, while Diggs has a game-high six receptions for 50 yards. King topped his season total (53) with three catches for 66 yards, while Petty was 11 for 16 for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Renner threw three touchdown passes, completing 14 of 18 attempts for 115 yards. Running back Giovani Bernard has 78 rushing yards on 11 carries.