PHILADELPHIA — It was at once a coming-out party and a festival of fumbles, an embarrassment of riches for those who enjoy touchdowns and turnovers, a game in which the Maryland football team celebrated, then gasped for air, then celebrated again.
After the Terrapins built a 23-point halftime lead based partly on the arm of freshman quarterback Perry Hills, Temple began whittling away until classmate Stefon Diggs emerged from a second-half cocoon and sophomore Justus Pickett once again delivered the knockout blow in a 36-27 win that nearly squirted away.
Pickett’s seven-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes 51 seconds left and senior Demetrius Hartsfield’s interception 46 seconds later were the knockout blows as Maryland equaled its 2011 win total in its first road victory since Nov. 13, 2010, and first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since it beat Miami on Sept. 5, 2011.
If reality were supposed to descend on Coach Randy Edsall’s team — with the numerous injuries and youngsters earning their first taste of college football — it hasn’t set in. At least not yet.
“To have our guys come on the road, against a quality football team, and to fight through all the adversity that we had in the second half, and to put that last drive together, it really showed me something about the heart, the soul, and the character, and the belief that these kids have in one another and in themselves,” Edsall said.
In the mood for revenge after Temple’s 38-7 win at Byrd Stadium last season, Maryland shook off four turnovers — all by freshmen — and at last put away a win, something that rarely happened in 2011, when Maryland squandered a 35-17 third-quarter lead against Clemson and a 41-14 third-quarter lead against North Carolina State.
Hills engineered the clinching 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter, which was extended by two third-down conversions, one an eight-yard pass to Kevin Dorsey, the other a 38-yard heave to Diggs.
The catch ensured that Diggs atoned for a muffed punt earlier in the quarter.
“Coming out of last year, you sit there, you see all the games you should have pulled out, and I think that’s what stuck with a lot of guys over the offseason,” said defensive tackle A.J. Francis, who had a sack, a fumble recovery and a fourth-quarter blocked field goal. “Instead of looking back, saying what-ifs, we were able to pull it out and get the ‘W.’ I’m really happy we got this game, for sure.
“Wins are hard to come by, especially on the road. The fact we were able to pull this out, especially the adversity we faced in the second half, says a lot of the young guys we have.”
Hills capped the drive on a triple-option read to Pickett, who bulldozed into the end zone and finished with 69 yards on a career-high 21 carries.
Six of those carries came on the clinching drive.
“I didn’t sense any panic settle in on the sideline,” Edsall said of his team, which led 26-3 at halftime. “I think our kids were confident the whole way. They believed. They didn’t think anything was happening other than us winning the ballgame.”
Winning seemed a near certainty throughout the first half. The Owls mustered just 34 yards in the half as the Maryland front seven had its way with a rushing attack that piled up 285 yards in last year’s meeting.
Meantime, an offense that was held scoreless through three quarters in the opener against William & Mary sprung loose.
Hills found tight end Matt Furstenburg with a deft over-the-shoulder pass for a 22-yard touchdown.
Marcus Leak (three catches, 90 yards) hauled in a 32-yard touchdown reception after the secondary bit on play-action. And, after a botched shotgun snap gave the Terapins a safety, Hills marched in, untouched, from 11 yards despite letting the snap get away from him.
Hills finished 11 of 21 for 190 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“I told them at halftime, it’s not going to be easy,” Edsall said. “They’re not going to roll over and play dead. They’re not going to be possums.”
And as nearly every Maryland player acknowledged after the game, things are still a work in progress. Freshman running back Wes Brown fumbled twice. The secondary got burned for touchdown passes of 35 and 62 yards.
But nothing could sap the euphoria of the moment, not after payback on the road, not after finally finishing a win.
“I’ve only been 2-0 twice in my whole life,” Francis said. “Once was two years ago, and then this year.”
He paused, thought and smiled.
“Now, I’ve never been 3-0.”