The concussion Brown sustained at Florida State in early October was the first major setback. It was followed by a string of blows Brown took elsewhere that seemed to slow him down both physically and mentally.
But at Lane Stadium, against heavily favored Virginia Tech, Brown finally delivered his own knockout punch Saturday.
In his best performance since early in the season, Brown capped off an afternoon in which he rushed for 123 yards with a 3-yard touchdown in overtime to lead Maryland to a 27-24 victory before a stunned crowd of 64,686.
“It’s huge to get that monkey off our back,” Brown said after the Terps’ first overtime win since 2009. “With all the adverse times we’ve gone through as a team, even this year, coming off the [three-game] losing streak and coming down here to Lane Stadium against a good Virginia Tech team. To get that win, on the road, says a lot about this team.”
The victory was not only the first for the Terps in Blacksburg since 1949 and the first overall against the Hokies since 1990, it was also clearly the most significant of Edsall’s tumultuous three years in College Park.
“They had a resolve this week that they wanted to change things around, that things weren’t going the way we wanted them to go, and all the credit goes to the players for getting it fixed and coming down here and playing their hearts out,” Edsall said. “Just a beautiful win for us."
After a defense that sacked Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3) quarterback Logan Thomas seven times held the Hokies to a field goal on the first possession of overtime, runs of 7 and 15 yards by sophomore tailback Brandon Ross set up Brown’s game-winning touchdown.
Initially looking for Dave Stinebaugh (Perry Hall), Brown saw his senior tight end covered, so he took off, as he did for much of the game. Running out of room, Brown stretched out to reach the pylon with the football. A wild celebration was briefly halted as the play was reviewed, then resumed after it was quickly confirmed as a touchdown.
Edsall, who raised his arms in triumph when Brown scored, said later that he thought: “There’s no way they can overturn it. There’s no way.”
Edsall said Brown’s second touchdown run and third overall of the game “really epitomized the effort that our team gave all day. We had a determination, we had a passion, we had a resolve that nothing was going to stop us. We were going to find a way.
“The same thing with the play of C.J. today and what he did. [It] helped our team and motivated our offensive team, to see him do the things we know he can do when he is healthy. … When your leader is out there doing those type of things, it gets you fired up and gets you to play maybe a little bit harder.”
Brown, who had played poorly since coming back from his concussion, said he could feel a difference in his legs in practice last week.
“I feel like just the explosiveness to get away from guys or just to make moves where I felt comfortable to shake a guy —where if I did make a mistake, I could use my athletic ability to get out of it — and I felt like was able to do that today,” said Brown, who overcame an interception to complete 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Nigel King and a 43-yard pass to redshirt freshman wideout Amba Etta-Tawo.
Asked whether his revived health made a difference in the way he approached Saturday’s game, Brown said: “That’s the biggest thing. Mentally, I was there and I could physically do it. When you think you can make those plays with your legs and it’s not happening, you sit back and look in the mirror [and say], ‘I can’t do that. I have to do something else.’ I felt really good out there.”
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose defense came in ranked first in the ACC and third in the country overall, said: “I don’t think we tackled sharply, and usually when you don’t tackle well, it means you aren’t full tilt and ready to play. We’re a good tackling football team, but [Brown] broke a lot of tackles, and he made some good plays. He made some really good throws once they got going and I give him credit.”
If Brown got most of the credit for leading the Terps to an ACC victory for the first time as a starter — and to their first win under Edsall after Oct. 13 — it was freshman Will Likely who gave Maryland a glimmer of hope. His 63-yard puint return for a touchdown in the second quarter tied the game at 7 with less than eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Brown then scored late in the half on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 17 seconds to go.
It was the first time the Terps had led at halftime since their 37-0 win over West Virginia on Sept. 21.
But after a 1-yard sneak by Brown to start the third quarter gave the Terps a 21-7 lead, the Hokies returned the opening kickoff 88 yards. They soon cut the deficit to 21-14 on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Logan Thomas to D.J. Coles, then converted on a third-and-24 with a 38-yard pass from Thomas to Knowles to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Willie Byrn.
With the score tied at 21, it seemed as if the only people in the stadium to think Maryland had a chance were Edsall, his assistants and the players.
“The neat thing, being on the sideline, the energy was there the whole day,” Edsall said. “Even when it was it was 21-21, our guys didn’t flinch. They knew that they were going to find a way. … To me, it was heart and guts, all heart and all guts when you watch that.”
And a lot of fun, especially in Edsall’s touchdown celebration after Brown stretched for the pylon.
Afterward, Brown didn’t even pay attention to the review.
“I was worried about not getting a concussion,” he said with a smile. “Everybody was hitting me on the head, I couldn’t see, everyone was excited. I knew it was a touchdown. I knew none ofmy body parts hit the ground and I controlled the ball. I knew it was a touchdown.”
Said senior linebacker Matt Robinson (Atholton): “It definitely feels good, [win] No. 6. It’s been a long time coming. I think we played really hard, and I’m happy. It’s sort of a relief to get that off our chests, and now we’ve got two more [games] in front of us.”
For a battered quarterback and a beleaguered coach and a football program badly in need of a win, it was a long time coming.