WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Coach Randy Edsall gripped Deon Long’s hand tight and stared into the distance as trainers inspected the wide receiver’s right leg. Stefon Diggs hovered nearby, whispering encouragement to his fellow wide receiver and close friend. The Maryland football team has suffered injuries before, but not quite like this.
One year after four of their quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries, the Terrapins lost their top two receivers to horrific injuries in the same game, a 34-10 shredding by Wake Forest on Saturday that halted Maryland’s quest for bowl eligibility.
Long broke his tibia and fibula, two bones in the lower leg, while blocking on a running play early in the second quarter. Diggs suffered a fractured fibula in the fourth quarter. Both will have surgery this week. Both, Edsall assumed, will miss rest of the season, and Maryland will have to replace their 66 combined receptions and more than 1,000 yards.
“It’s definitely a shocking feeling,” defensive lineman Darius Kilgo said. “It definitely hit a soft place in our hearts. But the best thing we can do is move forward as a team.”
The defeat Wake Forest handed Maryland only added to the pain. The Demon Deacons (4-3, 3-2 ACC) controlled the game in its entirety, from the first snap, when mammoth nose tackle Nikita Whitlock burst up the middle and sacked quarterback C.J. Brown for a 15-yard loss, to the final whistle, when Maryland (5-2, 1-2 ACC) trudged off BB&T Field with substantially fewer numbers than when it entered.
“It sucks,” safety Sean Davis said. “We got punched in the face today.”
It all began early in the second quarter. Facing first and 10 from the Wake Forest 43-yard line, down 10-0, running back Brandon Ross took an option pitch around the left edge, with Long blocking down the Maryland sideline. As Ross tried to hurdle a tackler, Long’s right leg twisted beneath him, and several players collapsed on top of the junior college transfer, who led the team in receptions entering Saturday’s game. Before long, a cart drove onto the turf and Long was loaded onto a stretcher, a black splint wrapped around the injured area. An ambulance brought him to a nearby hospital.
The dumpster fire continued to burn in Long’s absence. After place kicker Brad Craddock finished that drive with a 23-yard field goal, Brown threw interceptions on consecutive possessions. After the first, Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price scored on a four-yard touchdown run to give the Demon Deacons a 17-3 lead.
“We didn’t come out and match their intensity early on,” Edsall said. “That’s something that was very disappointing.”
On an afternoon when Arnold Palmer, a Wake Forest alumnus, entered the stadium riding atop the mascot’s motorcycle, the Deacons at times seemed to toy with Maryland. Whitlock finished with two sacks and three hurries. For the third straight ACC game, the Terps finished with a negative turnover differential (minus-three). And after Brown’s second interception, wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill) twice completed passes on trick plays, including a four-yard touchdown throw to quarterback Tanner Price that ballooned Wake Forest’s lead to 24-3.
Aside from his first two passes, including a 56-yard touchdown to Levern Jacobs that chopped the the Terrapins’ deficit to 24-10, Maryland backup quarterback Caleb Rowe wasn’t much better than Brown, who was benched shortly following halftime. The hero last weekend in Maryland’s fourth-quarter comeback over Virginia, which brought Maryland one win away postseason eligibility, Rowe completed just 12 of 27 attempts.
“I just felt that things that I saw, it was the best thing for our team to do to try and move the ball in the second half,” Edsall said, explaining his decision to sit Brown, who missed last week’s win with a concussion.
The absurdity reached peak heights in the fourth quarter, long after Ross also left with an upper-body injury of his own. On fourth down, Diggs converted on a crossing route but crumpled to the turf in the process. Trainers carried him off the field, the sophomore’s arms around their shoulders, and sat him on the bench. They wrapped his right foot tight in tape and handed him a white towel, which Diggs bit deep into for comfort. All afternoon these Terps had sought relief, anything really to stop the bleeding. It never came.