ORLANDO — Maryland Coach DJ Durkin watched starting quarterback Perry Hills stagger off the field with an apparent shoulder injury in the second overtime of Saturday night’s game against Central Florida, so he quickly called for true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome. With the score tied and the Terrapins on the cusp of escaping a desperate opponent, Durkin looked Pigrome in the eye and began preaching about ball security.
Pigrome just looked back at Durkin as if he already knew what he was going to do. A few moments later, on his first snap of the night, the true freshman sliced through Central Florida’s defense for a 24-yard touchdown run to give Maryland a 30-24 double overtime win and what Durkin would later call “a program builder.”
“The guy has ice in his veins, man,” Durkin said of Pigrome. “There was nothing big about the moment for him.”
Pigrome had quietly waited his turn as the Terrapins went back and forth the entire evening with the Knights, who rallied from deficits in the fourth quarter and first overtime to push Maryland to the brink. But playing in its first overtime game since 2000, Maryland never folded. Central Florida had a chance for a go-ahead touchdown in the second overtime, but true freshman quarterback Milton McKenzie fumbled in bizarre fashion — the ball slipped out of his hands as he was attempting a throw — and Maryland took over after defensive tackle Kingsley Opara recovered.
Hills, who finished 10-for-23 for 127 yards, was hurt on the next play as Maryland ran the ball on first down. That set up a dramatic finish from Pigrome to send Maryland into a much-needed bye week given Hills’s uncertain status. Durkin said afterward that Hills hurt his shoulder but believes the senior “will be fine.”
After cruising to wins over Howard and Florida International to open the season, Maryland tasted its first dose of adversity in a hostile road environment. Little went according to plan early. Maryland was outgained 135-27 in the first quarter, punting on its first four drives and falling into its first deficit of the season after Central Florida true freshman quarterback Milton found Dontravious Wilson on a four-yard touchdown pass.
But Maryland also forced three takeaways in the first half. Milton fumbled away two snaps, the second of which led to a seven-yard touchdown run by Terrapins’ true freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison (86 yards) to tie the game early in the second quarter. Maryland thwarted the ensuing drive after Milton overthrew a receiver and was picked off by sophomore defensive back JC Jackson.
Maryland held a 10-7 halftime lead, but kicker Adam Greene couldn’t build on it early in the second half. He missed from 38 yards after defensive back Will Likely opened the second half with a 64-yard kick return, then followed with a shank on a 51-yarder after Central Florida failed to convert on a fake punt deep inside its own territory on the ensuing possession.
Central Florida eventually capitalized on Maryland’s misfortune, with Milton setting up a first and goal on a 71-yard throw from Milton to wide receiver Jordan Akins. Milton fumbled a handoff two plays later, but picked the ball up and ran around Maryland’s defense for a seven-yard go-ahead touchdown.
“We knew they were going to make some plays coming in,” Likely said.
Maryland went back to Harrison to begin the next drive. The former DeMatha star picked up first downs on runs of 16 and 14 yards to help set up a 75-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 16-yard touchdown run by senior Kenneth Goins Jr. to make it 17-14 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
After Central Florida tied the game at 17 on a 42-yard field goal, Maryland was forced to punt on each of its next two drives. Hills had time for one final Hail Mary to end regulation, but the pass fell incomplete in the end zone, setting the stage for overtime. While much has been made about Hills’s progression as a passer, Maryland opted to unleash his underrated running ability in overtime. Maryland took lead off three runs by the senior, capped on a five-yard keeper to make it 24-17.
It appeared Maryland was going to escape with a win after forcing the Knights’ into a third-and-18 situation, but Milton hit wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith for a 31-yard touchdown to tie the score at 24.
“We pretty much trained for this environment,” said Goins. “We just went out and played.”
Central Florida opened the second overtime by marching to the Terrapins 2, but Milton lost control of a throw on third down and was called for a fumble. Officials reviewed for several minutes whether his arm was moving forward — but the call stood and Maryland took over.
Hills was injured on the next play, and one final piece of drama awaited when Pigrome jogged onto the field for his first — and only — play of the night.
“There was so many times in that game where they had to dig deep. The offense had to pick up the defense, and the defense had to pick up the offense, special teams and everything,” Durkin said. “We held strong through all of that.”