If anyone had said a month ago that Rutgers had a chance to play in a postseason bowl game, it would have drawn some laughs.
Not anymore. Believe it or not, the Scarlet Knights have a shot at a bowl game under second-year coach Chris Ash after winning for the third time in four games.
Gus Edwards ran for 109 yards and caught a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown pass with 7:30 remaining to rally Rutgers to a 31-24 victory over Maryland on Saturday.
“I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to hear about that,” Ash said when asked about going to a bowl after a 2-10 season. “I'm not worried. I am letting our players celebrate this victory.”
Getting two wins is not going to be easy for Rutgers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten). It faces No. 7 Penn State next weekend with the Nittany Lions coming off a loss to Michigan State. It then plays at Indiana and closes the regular season at home against No. 24 Michigan State, which is likely to move up.
“We have been saying that, that we can get into a bowl game,” said running back Robert Martin, who scored on a 10-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter as the Scarlet Knights scored the final 14 points to come back from a seven-point deficit. “We are the only people who believe in ourselves.”
This one was not secure until Rutgers cornerback Isaiah Wharton broke up a fourth-down pass by fourth-string, walk-on quarterback Ryan Brand to DJ Moore in the corner of the end zone. Brand had a game-tying 15-yard touchdown pass to Taivon Jacobs nullified a few plays earlier by an offensive holding call.
The loss hurt Maryland (4-5, 2-4). They have three games left: against Michigan at home, at Michigan State and home against Penn State
“Just didn't make enough plays to win the game and they did,” Maryland coach DJ Durkin said. “Ryan Brand came in to the game in a tough spot and did a great job leading the team downfield. We had a great chance at the end, but we shouldn't have been in that spot. There was a lot of plays left out on both sides of the ball.”
Brand replaced Max Bortenschlager — the Terps' third quarterback this season — after Rutgers went ahead on Edwards' touchdown in the fourth. Bortenschlager had taken a big hit on a third-down run on the previous series and Durkin said he was dinged.
Gio Rescigno scored on a 9-yard run, Kiy Hester had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown and Andrew Harte kicked a 50-yard field goal for Rutgers, which is kicking itself after losing to Eastern Michigan at home in the second week of the season.
“We are definitely playing with a lot of momentum now,” Edwards said. “We are getting a lot of good team wins. We just have to keep it up.”
Trailing 17-14 at the half, Maryland (4-5, 2-4) went ahead on the opening series of the second half on a 4-yard touchdown run by Ty Johnson. Henry Darmstadter added a short field goal to push the lead to 24-17 after a Rutgers' turnover on a punt return.
“We just have to come to practice ready to execute to get ready for it,” Johnson said of the home stretch. “It's just what we have to do to get ready for it. It's as simple as coming in, execute and be detailed and execute on the field, so that's just what we have to do to win two out of three.”
After falling behind 7-0 late in the first quarter, Rutgers, which ran for 239 yards, scored 17 straight points in the second to take a 17-7 lead.
Rescigno (8-for-17 for 107 yards) set up his 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter with a 35-yard pass to tight end Jerome Washington. Harte kicked the first 50-yard field goal for Rutgers in five years on the next series to put the Scarlet Knights ahead. Hester added his second pick-six of the season on the Terps next series, stepping in front of a forced pass by Bortenschlager and jogging into the end zone.
Bortenschlager (11-for-20 for 150 yards) drove Maryland 76 yards on the next series with Harrison scoring from 2 yards out with 1:13 left in the half.
The football game was part of a doubleheader. A little more than three hours before the kickoff, Rutgers defeated Maryland 27-9 in wrestling, winning seven of 10 matches.
Maryland returns home to play Michigan next Saturday.
Rutgers plays at No. 7 Penn State next Saturday.