COLLEGE PARK — Caleb Griffin kicked the ball through the uprights to end the game, then took off for the other end zone and slid on his stomach in celebration.
It was a move he’d sort of planned out while talking with holder Hugh Robertson.
“We were on the sideline and they had a lot of fans chirping, and I kind of told Hugh, I was like, ‘Hey, when we make this game-winning kick, we’re going to run down like it’s a soccer game,’” Griffin said. “Like when you score a soccer goal, you run to the other end and head-first slide, and it’s perfect with the wet turf.”
Griffin kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give Illinois its first Big Ten victory of the season, a 27-24 upset of Maryland on Saturday.
Luke Altmyer threw two touchdown passes and then guided the Illini (3-4, 1-3) into field goal range after Maryland’s Jack Howes tied it with a 48-yard kick with 1:31 remaining. Seth Coleman had three sacks for Illinois.
Kaden Feagin ran for a TD for the Illini, who reached the end zone on both sides of halftime to take the lead. Maryland (5-2, 2-2) was coming off its first loss of the season. The Terrapins acquitted themselves well for much of that game at Ohio State, but they followed it with a performance as dreary as the grey sky on what was a drizzly day in Maryland.
Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns and even caught a pass on a trick play, but the Terps had a hard time sustaining drives against a solid Illinois defensive front.
Illinois led 24-14 before Maryland’s Antwain Littleton II ran for a 4-yard touchdown as time expired in the third quarter. That was the start of a late rally by the Terrapins, but they settled for a field goal on their final possession after an unsuccessful running play on third-and-6.
“Anytime we make calls like that, it’s easy for us to second guess them,” Maryland coach Michael Locksley said. “It’s obviously something that we prepared for. We have run some third-and-medium based on the front and based on the defense we expect to get. I’d like to see us find ways to be more efficient on third-and-medium, whether it’s run or throw.”
Maryland led 14-7 in the second quarter when receiver Kaden Prather fumbled the ball away at the Illinois 27. The Illini then drove for the tying touchdown with the help of a couple of big penalties on the Terrapins. On fourth-and-1 from the 2, Illinois lined up as if to kick a short field goal, but Maryland took a timeout.
Locksley said that was to remind players not to be drawn offside on the kick, but the Illini then sent their offense back on the field, and Feagin ran for a TD to even the score at 14 with 9 seconds left in the half. Illinois coach Bret Bielema said offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. talked him into going for it.
“We like to defer [after winning the opening coin toss] and what we call double dip, which, you try to score right before the half and you try to score the first possession out,” Bielema said. “That usually flips a game for you.”
Maryland tried an onside kick to open the third quarter, but it didn’t work. The Illini marched 59 yards and took the lead on a 15-yard scoring pass from Altmyer to Isaiah Williams.
“We always fight to get what we call that two-score swing between the halves. That’s one of the reasons why we tried the surprise onside there to steal that possession,” Locksley said. “Obviously, didn’t get it executed — it was there, but didn’t get it executed and then gave up the touchdown, which then allowed them to have the two-score swing.”
Illinois opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 44-yard touchdown strike from Altmyer to Pat Bryant. Maryland answered with touchdown passes by Tagovailoa to Sean Greeley and Prather.