RALEIGH, N.C. — Maryland’s previous game at Carter-Finley Stadium had turned into one of the most harrowing experiences in the program’s long football history: a blown 27-point lead that ended coach Randy Edsall’s difficult 2011 season, his first, with a jarring loss.
Playing its final game in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday, Maryland wanted its return to North Carolina State to also be memorable, but not for handing its opponent a comeback for the ages.
Rising to a level that seemed worthy of the historic moment, the Terps scored on their first six possessions Saturday and again took a 27-point lead. This time, though, Maryland made two big fourth-down stops in the second half and held on for a 41-21 win.
In the end, the Terps (7-5, 3-5 ACC) closed out the game with quarterback C.J. Brown taking a knee in victory formation, confident they would be playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
“It felt good to end on our own terms, with the ball in our hands,” Brown said after one of the best games of his career.
The Terps, who had ended the previous two years with long losing streaks, won two of their last three regular-season games. They walked off the field on a brisk day pumping their fists and raising their helmets into the air.
“There was no guarantee that we’d go somewhere with six wins,” Edsall said. “I know we’ll go somewhere with seven.”
While it has a number of possible bowl destinations, Maryland improved its prospects for gaining a spot in the Military Bowl, which will be played in Annapolis on Dec. 27. The bowl pairings will be announced Dec. 8, and the Military Bowl has expressed interest in the Terps if they are available. If Maryland does not play in the Military Bowl, it could be selected for an at-large berth in a game not affiliated with the ACC.
After winning two games in 2011 and four games last season, Edsall said securing any postseason game “is huge for us. It’s huge for the program, huge that we’re going to get extra practices for these young guys. It’s like an extra spring practice, but most importantly it’s for those guys in that [locker] room over there, because they’re the ones who got it done on the field today.”
Maryland needed to rebound from last week’s last-second, 29-26 loss to Boston College. With no indoor practice facility of its own, the team practiced at the Ravens’ and Washington Redskins’ indoor fields during Thanksgiving week.
Maryland was led by Brown, who ran for 138 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Brown had been Maryland’s quarterback in the 2011 game that ended with the Terps blowing a 41-14 lead in a 56-41 loss to the Wolfpack.
When Maryland again went up big Saturday, it was hard to fault injured Terps linebacker Alex Twine for tweeting, “No lead is safe in that stadium.” Twine played in the 2011 game as a freshman.
Brown, too, couldn’t help but remember the game that ended with the biggest comeback in N.C. State’s football history. “I didn’t remember the score [two years ago], but I knew the situation,” the senior quarterback said. “I knew we were up big and then they started creeping back. We knew that situation. It definitely flashed through my mind.”
But this time, the Terps sacked N.C. State quarterback Brandon Mitchell five times and got two fourth-down stops in the second half.
Trailing 41-21 late in the third quarter, N.C. State (3-9, 0-8) took over on its 35 after defensive tackle T.Y. McGill recovered running back Brandon Ross’ fumble, Maryland’s only turnover of the day.
The Wolfpack faced fourth-and-2 from the Maryland 7. But Mitchell was stopped for a 3-yard loss by linebacker Marcus Whitfield and defensive end Quinton Jefferson. Whitfield, a senior, also had an earlier sack.
“This is [Whitfield’s] last season and that’s my boy, and he’s fought through adversity [with injuries],” said Maryland defensive end Andre Monroe, who had two sacks. “That’s one thing that was running through my head when I saw that [tackle]. I was there to celebrate with him.”
With the score still 41-21, Maryland sacked Mitchell again on fourth-and-4 at the Terps' 8 with 4:21 left in the game.
The Wolfpack took a 7-0 lead by driving 80 yards on its opening possession. But then came the Maryland onslaught: scores on seven of its first eight possessions.
The Terps took advantage of outstanding field position. Because of Wolfpack miscues or long Maryland returns, the Terps began three of their first five possessions inside N.C. State territory.
Maryland took a 10-7 lead on wide receiver Nigel King’s career-long, 53-yard touchdown reception on the Terps’ second possession. The lead became 17-7 after Brown’s 49-yard run on Maryland’s next series.
Maryland started its next possession on N.C. State’s 14 after a high snap to Wolfpack punter Wil Baumann resulted in a 27-yard loss. “Everything changes with field position,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “We had that snap over our punter’s head that gave them good field position.”
Maryland’s Brad Craddock followed with his second 33-yard field goal, making it 20-7, and Brown would score twice more before the Wolfpack responded.
“I couldn’t be happier for our guys and how they fought through adversity all year long,” Edsall said. “I think [the victory] puts an exclamation point on who these kids are and what they are all about.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun