One of these days, when Maryland plays a top-tier team, it will feel different.
One of these days, coach Michael Locksley won’t have to start his postgame media session with the caveat that there aren’t moral victories before praising the Terps’ effort.
One of these days, Maryland won’t have to leave the field staring at a scoreboard reminding it of a simple yet devastating fact — it has yet to notch a breakthrough win.
That day has yet to come. The Terps, hosting No. 2 Michigan on Saturday, had three chances in the fourth quarter to notch a go-ahead touchdown and change the trajectory of the program.
Maryland lost yardage on each one, failing to land the fiery punch that topples titans and instead leaving the field wistfully lamenting a 31-24 loss. The margin was just five before the Terps’ last drive, one that started inside the 1-yard line after a Michigan punt bounced mere inches from the end zone.
“The football gods laughed at us and dropped the ball there at the one-inch line for us to have to go win the game,” Locksley said.
After a 3-yard run, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back into the end zone and threw a pass well short of receiver Tai Felton.
As the officials huddled, Felton neared. He repeatedly tapped his chest to assert himself as the intended target. But referee Larry Smith threw a flag for intentional grounding, sending Felton and Tagovailoa into hysterical disbelief.
The safety extended Michigan’s lead to seven. Maryland never got the ball back.
“I don’t know if the ball was too short or what happened, but I feel like there was a receiver in the vicinity,” Tagovailoa said. “But I mean, playing at Maryland, they don’t give us those calls like that.”
Added safety Beau Brade: “I feel like you can’t make that call at that point in the game, but I mean, that’s the call that was made.”
Brade led Maryland with 11 tackles, 10 of them solo efforts. He helped keep Michigan superstar Blake Corum — who torched the Terps for 243 yards last year — to just 94 yards on 28 carries. Maryland’s defense allowed the Wolverines only three scores on 10 possessions and forced four three-and-outs.
“This is probably the best game that we played together as a defense,” Brade said. “My mindset going into the game was I had to have a big game. I wanted to inflict pain. ... Not anything dirty, but that’s my mindset when going out there.”
The stout defensive effort didn’t start that way. Michigan averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the first quarter. That, combined with a Tagovailoa fumble returned for a touchdown and a safety on a blocked punt, put the visitors up 16-3. A Corum touchdown midway through the second quarter put the Wolverines up 20.
The Terps scored a touchdown on their next drive, but Michigan once again marched down the field. Jaishawn Barham stopped its foray at the Maryland 7-yard line with an interception.
Michigan scored its last points with just over four minutes left in the third quarter to go up 12.
The Terps responded with an efficient nine-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a Billy Edwards Jr. sneak touchdown. Edwards, Tagovailoa’s backup, has five inches and 10 pounds on the starter, per their listed heights and weights. He entered for four quarterback sneaks and emerged with a game-high three touchdowns.
Maryland couldn’t find any further offense; none of the final three drives made it past its 20-yard line.
After the second safety, the Terps had two timeouts and 3:36 to work with. They forced Michigan into fourth-and-1 at the Maryland 38-yard line.
Anticipating a run, defensive coordinator Brian Williams put seven players on the line of scrimmage. He guessed right. Corum pressed forward, churning his legs into a morass of bodies to get that all-important yard. The officials couldn’t determine his success or failure with their eyes alone and brought out the chains to arbitrate.
The ruling favored Michigan, mere chain links separating Tagovailoa and the Terps from having solid field position and a chance to extend the game.
Instead, two runs and a kneel-down later, Maryland’s bout with a member of the Big Ten’s elite ended as every other one has.
“To have a breakthrough win, our team played the script to a T,” Locksley said, “except the finish.”
One of these days, the Terps will get to say those statements without the final caveat.
One of these days, instead of plodding off the field, weighed down by missed chances and self-inflicted mistakes, they’ll strut into a jubilant locker room as victors.
One of these days, Maryland will get a different result.
It has to happen eventually ... right?