WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Maryland wide receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs were sprawled on the BB&T Field turf less than 10 yards apart. It was early in the second quarter, and Maryland's once-promising season was taking a stunningly ominous turn.
Diggs soon rose to his feet, but Long was placed on a cart and driven away by ambulance for treatment of what turned out to be season-ending fractures of his tibia and fibula in his lower right leg. Diggs, who leaned down and whispered something to Long as he was taken away, would need a cart of his own in the fourth quarter. He was diagnosed with a broken fibula in his right leg that is also expected to end his season.
Wake Forest, which was winning 10-0 when Long was hurt, went on to overwhelm the shocked Terps, 34-10.
After beginning the season 4-0, Maryland has lost two of its past three games. With the defeat, the Terps (5-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) remain one win shy of bowl eligibility.
A year after losing four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, the Terps and their fans were again left with all-too-familiar images of players lying on the field at awkward angles and worried trainers rushing to treat them. Diggs was injured on his eighth catch of the game.
“I'm hurting. It really hit me hard seeing those guys go down,” said safety Sean Davis (seven tackles). “I was right there and saw it, heard everything. Since they can't be on the field making plays, we've got to do it for them. I didn't watch the replay because I didn't want to look at it. Hearing both of them scream, it was hard.”
Already playing without their top two cornerbacks and three linebackers because of injuries, the Terps were also without starting linebacker L.A. Goree (back spasms). Safety Anthony Nixon left the game with a toe injury, and his status was unknown. Running back Brandon Ross also left the game with an undisclosed injury.
After the game, an emotional Randy Edsall sounded almost defiant that he won't let injuries color the season.
“We'll get to where we want to go,” the Terps coach said twice.
Edsall said he was determined not to let the team lose focus after the injuries. He said he had regretted not talking to the players collectively when quarterback C.J. Brown was knocked out of the Oct. 5 loss to Florida State with a concussion.
“I had to get their mind right,” Edsall said. “Deon is a great kid and really good player. We hurt for Deon, but we've still got to go play a game, try to win a game.”
Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2 ACC) and senior nose guard Nikita Whitlock (two sacks) consistently applied pressure on Brown, sacking him three times on its homecoming weekend. Brown also was intercepted twice in his return, after missing last week's Virginia game because of the concussion.
Maryland might have known it was in for a long day when Whitlock took down Brown hard for a 14-yard loss on the Terps' first offensive play.
“Right out of the blocks, Nikita was just a beast,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said.
Maryland got a temporary lift when backup quarterback Caleb Rowe entered in the third quarter. On his second play, Rowe threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Levern Jacobs to cut Wake Forest's lead to 24-10.
But Michael Campanaro (River Hill) — the league's leading receiver — caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Price to cap an 88-yard drive on Wake Forest's next possession, upping the lead to 31-10 with 2:54 left in the third quarter. Campanaro became the school's career receptions leader with 11 catches for 122 yards on Saturday.
Maryland often played a nickel defense with five defensive backs against a Wake Forest team better at passing than rushing.
It didn't stop Price from scoring something of a hat trick. He not only threw a touchdown pass, but also rushed for one and caught one from Campanaro on a gadget play.
“It was their homecoming, and we knew we were going to get their best game,” said Maryland nose tackle Darius Kilgo (four tackles).
Maryland trailed 10-0 before Brad Craddock made a 23-yard field goal to cut the margin to 10-3. But Wake Forest cornerback Merrill Noel jumped a sideline route and intercepted Brown's pass on Maryland's next possession, returning it 49 yards to the Terps' 18. That set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Price, making it 17-3.
The Terps struggled on the ground, finishing with 39 rushing yards. Once they got behind, they had to all but abandon the run. Combined, Maryland quarterbacks were 27-for-51 for 344 yards.
Maryland next faces No. 3 Clemson on Saturday. The 4-0 start seems like a distant memory.
“I've got to do a better job in making sure they listen to me rather than listen to everyone outside of the program and trying to congratulate them on stuff we haven't accomplished yet,” Edsall said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun