DETROIT — It was only fitting that Maryland quarterback Perry Hills ended Monday’s Quick Lane Bowl on his back, staring up at the Ford Field lights as Boston College’s players celebrated a 36-30 victory around him. He had nearly willed his team all the way back from a 23-point deficit in his final college game, pulling the Terrapins within a touchdown in the final two minutes.
But Maryland’s last possession, its final gasp at a winning season, ended when Hills was sacked at his 28-yard line on fourth and 10 with 1:25 remaining. As he staggered to his feet, he began having flashbacks about everything he had gone through in his turbulent career in College Park. The games. The injuries. The coaching change. He didn’t know that his final play was the eighth sack and 14th tackle for loss on the day for Boston College (7-6), the defining stats that sent the Terrapins (6-7) out on a somber note in their first season under Coach DJ Durkin.
“It is heartbreaking,” said Hills, who finished 15 for 35 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He also was responsible for four turnovers in a circus game that bordered on the absurd. It unfolded in a manner that fit the 2016 narrative for these Terrapins — up and down, with each highlight muddled by a mind-numbing lowlight. And for the seventh time this year, it ended with Durkin sternly taking the podium with his no-excuse rhetoric, except now he must wait eight months for another game.
“We shot ourselves in the foot way too many times in that game with penalties and then turnovers,” Durkin said. “You can’t win a game when you do that too many times.”
Maryland arrived here after a month of licking its wounds following its first regular season under Durkin, which included a 4-0 start, a four-game losing streak and a bowl-clinching win over Rutgers on the final day of the regular season. But the Terrapins looked unprepared early on — especially the offense, which gained just one total yard from scrimmage in the first quarter and had four punts and a fumble on its first five possessions.
Maryland has reinforcements on the way — Durkin and his staff have assembled one of the country’s top recruiting classes for 2017 — and it was again widely apparent Monday that cultivating both the offensive and defensive line is a top priority. While protection for Hills was spotty, Maryland’s defensive front was also pushed around early on.
It didn’t help that the Terrapins played without leading tackler Shane Cockerille after the junior linebacker was ruled ineligible. Using a fresh and inventive approach, Boston College’s offense racked up 238 yards in the first half and often left the Terrapins looking lost, including on a two-yard tight end throwback pass from Eagles quarterback Patrick Towles to Tommy Sweeney that spotted Boston College a 13-0 lead.
And each time Maryland mustered a big play to get back into it — including second-quarter touchdown runs of 62 and 30 yards by sophomore running back Ty Johnson — the Eagles responded with ingenuity. Towles hauled in a 20-yard flea-flicker pass to boost the lead to 23-7, then made it 29-13 after hitting Michael Walker for a 49-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left in the first half.
That appeared to be the back-breaker for Maryland, which encountered another disaster on its first offensive play of the third quarter. With Maryland pinned inside its 5-yard line, Boston College defensive tackle Noa Merritt blew up a handoff between Hills and Johnson to cause a fumble into the end zone, and Eagles defensive lineman Kevin Kavalec recovered for an improbable touchdown that made it 36-13.
While Johnson (159 yards, two touchdowns) did his best to electrify a small crowd with his big-play ability, Hills also used two crucial throws in the third quarter to pull his team within striking distance. After hitting senior wide receiver Teldrick Morgan for a 63-yard touchdown pass, Hills kept his rhythm on the ensuing drive, finding senior wide receiver Levern Jacobs for a 52-yard score to pull Maryland within 36-27 with 10:05 remaining in the third quarter.
That gave way to a defensive stalemate. Maryland had its chances to cut deeper into the lead, but Hills struggled to handle the ball in several decisive moments. With just under 11 minutes remaining, after he had driven Maryland to the Boston College 40-yard line and facing a fourth and one, Hills bobbled the snap before making a pitch to senior running back Kenny Goins Jr. The play failed to pick up a first down after Goins stumbled.
After Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. came up with an interception to help set up a red zone opportunity, Hills lost a bobbled snap on second and goal from the 1 with just over four minutes remaining.
“They did their film. They probably knew what we were going to run,” Johnson said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating, but BC did a good job. And they stopped us, so you have to give credit to them.”
Maryland’s defense came up with a fumble at the Boston College 5-yard line a minute later, setting up another scoring chance, but the Terrapins settled for a 23-yard Adam Greene field goal to cut the deficit to six with 2:55 remaining. It finally got the ball back at its 35 with just under two minutes left, but Hills threw three incompletions before he was sacked on the final play of his career. He was one of the seniors Durkin thanked afterward for contributing to the foundation of a program still in transition.
“I’m proud of everyone,” Hills said. “I’m proud of the seniors for going out there and not giving up.”