Maryland secured a bowl triumph in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 seasons and, on the heels of a 37-0 victory over Rutgers on Nov. 26 in College Park, closed this season with consecutive triumphs in which he did not surrender a touchdown.
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This time the Terrapins yielded just 27 rushing yards and 296 yards of total offense while limiting NC State (8-5, No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings) to 5 for 18 on third down and holding an advantage in time of possession. more than 11 minutes. They also forced two turnovers via interceptions of quarterback Ben Finley.
“The defense played their butts off,” said Maryland Coach Michael Locksley, who celebrated with a mayonnaise bath customary for the winning coach. “We put them in some tough situations today with short fields. Holding them to field goals saved the day because we weren’t as clean as we needed to be on offense. … That was the difference in the game for us.”
Maryland trailed only briefly in front of an announced crowd of 37,228 despite program record-setting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa tossing a pair of interceptions and completing 19 of 37 passes for 221 yards. A completion in the fourth quarter sent the redshirt junior over 3,000 passing yards for a second consecutive season.
Tagovailoa’s 19-yard scoring pass to Octavian Smith Jr. with 8:07 to play in the second quarter produced the game’s only touchdown. Maryland also received a lift from kicker Chad Ryland, who booted three field goals, the last of which was from 45 yards with 5:36 to play in the fourth quarter, for the final margin.
Maryland’s touchdown unfolded on third and 14 when Smith produced an acrobatic catch on the way to the ground, beating cornerback Derrek Pitts Jr., on a fade pattern. Tagovailoa went 4 for 5 during the series, with the only completion being a drop by fullback Joseph Bearns III.
On the ensuing possession, NC State drove to the Maryland 2 before Finley threw three consecutive incompletions, forcing the Wolfpack to settle for the second of three first-half field goals from graduate kicker Chris Dunn, who made four field goals overall to match a Mayo Bowl record.
Maryland collected the first turnover of the game when linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay caught a pass that deflected off the hands of Wolfpack wide receiver Darryl Jones on a crossing route in the first quarter. It was the first career interception for Gotay, a redshirt senior.
But three snaps later, the Terrapins’ defense was on the field again after Tagovailoa heaved a pass toward the back corner of the end zone while trying to escape pressure. The ball landed in the arms of diving safety Cyrus Fagan, whose right toe touched inbounds as he secured the catch.
The Wolfpack converted that takeaway into Dunn’s 38-yard field goal with 6:10 left in the first quarter for the game’s first points.
“It’s meant a lot,” Bennett, a senior, said of his time at Maryland. “It’s really changed my life. Coming from [junior college]coming here and [helping] change this program around, from the culture to this year to last year, back-to-back bowl wins, it means a lot to see that, all the labor coming to fruition.”
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s win:
Shorthanded at wide receiver
The Terrapins played without a handful of their most productive wide receivers after Dontay Demus Jr. and Jacob Copeland, both seniors, as well as Rakim Jarrett, a junior, announced that they were declaring for the NFL draft and would not participate in the bowl game.
Jarrett, a native of Palmer Park, Md., who played high school football at St. John’s in the District, led Maryland in receiving yards per game (42.8) and entered Friday tied for first in receptions (40) with Jeshaun Jones, a redshirt senior who also has NFL aspirations.
Jeshaun Jones has had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at Maryland
“The eight-win season is huge,” said Jones (79 yards on four receptions), who missed last year’s Pinstripe Bowl win due to injury. “Just believing in [Locksley’s] message was a big thing. When he got there, everyone believed in what he had to say. That’s the biggest thing is belief and trust.”
Tagovailoa comes off the bench
Tagovailoa stood on the sideline for the first series of the game as second-stringer Billy Edwards Jr. trotted out with the starters. Locksley indicated Tagovailoa sitting for the opening drive was a “coach’s decision” because of a minor violation of team rules.
Tagovailoa has started 27 of 29 games over three seasons at Maryland and owns the school’s record for career passing touchdowns (51).
“We’ve had games where there are other people who haven’t started for whatever reason, and you don’t notice it, but when it’s the quarterback it’s a big deal, and it really wasn’t,” Locksley said. “Sometimes you’ve got to do things to send a message, and I thought the message was sent, obviously.”