COLLEGE PARK - For the Maryland football team, the road to Annapolis for the 2013 Military Bowl ran through Blacksburg, Va.
It was there on Nov. 16 that the Terrapins upset Virginia Tech in overtime, 27-24, to become bowl-eligible. But the game represented a great deal more than that to the players and coaches.
At that point, Maryland had dropped four of five games after a 4-0 start. With injuries mounting, the prospects for a bowl bid were growing slimmer each week. Going into that game, the Terrapins were short-handed at cornerback, linebacker and wide receiver because of injuries. Plus, they hadn't beaten the Hokies since they joined the ACC in 2003.
But all that changed on that particular Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries and a pair of scores, including the game-winner in overtime. Freshman Wil Likely returned a punt 63 yards for another score and the defense recorded seven sacks. It was Maryland's most complete performance since a 37-0 whitewashing of West Virginia in late September.
The victory pulled Maryland out of its mid-season tailspin and the Terrapins closed the season with two wins in its last three games. Only a late-game 52-yard field goal by Boston College kept Maryland from winning three straight to close the season.
"What you want is for guys to have the attitude they had this year, [that] it doesn't matter who gets hurt or what's thrown at you," Edsall said last week. "You find a way to overcome it and find a way to success and win.
"That's the thing from a program standpoint that's important - that our guys understood that were not just a one- or two- or three-man team. If you're a true team, you'll overcome those adverse situations that hit you during the season ...
"Our guys believed that and that to me was the biggest difference from last year to this year."
In Edsall's first two seasons at Maryland, his teams were unable to turn their season around once things started to go bad. A combination of bad luck, inexperience and injuries kept the Terrapins from even getting started in 2011 and derailed a promising start in 2012.
The team lost its last eight games in Edsall's first season and its last six last year.
"We knew where we had been," Brown said. "We didn't want to go into an offseason on a downhill slope. Going into Virginia Tech, we knew we still could right our ship and write our own story."
The week before the Virginia Tech game, Maryland may have hit rock-bottom. Even though the Terrapins were humbled, 63-0, at powerful Florida State, the midseason loss to the Orange might have hurt even more.
Against a so-so (6-6) Syracuse team, Maryland did almost nothing offensively and suffered a 20-3 loss - at home, no less.
That defeat extended the tailspin that began with the Florida State embarrassment and prompted some genuine soul-searching on the part of the players.
The team's leadership council called a players-only meeting before the team traveled to Virginia Tech, during which everyone weighed in on what was wrong and what needed to change.
"After the Syracuse game, we really discussed our values as a team," linebacker Cole Farrand said. "We wanted to get back to the basics of what we were doing for the first four games because that's when we were at our best. We had a team meeting and said, 'We're a better team than we've been showing. Let's go out and prove it.' I think we did that."
In the process, Maryland managed to salvage its season and earn the program's first spot in the postseason since 2010.
"You're gonna have ups and down in a football season," said Farrand, who finished second on the team in tackles this season with 84. "The thing is how you get up and bounce back. We would have liked to have done that earlier in the season. But now we've got that seventh win and we're going to a bowl game and that's all that matters."