COLLEGE PARK -- — Will Likely had his shot over and over again Saturday afternoon.
The Maryland defense kept forcing Richmond to punt, and the Spiders kept kicking it to the Terps cornerback with similar results: a winding return through a mess of white jerseys stopped just short of breaking it for a touchdown.
But early in the fourth quarter, Richmond punter D.J. Helkowski launched a kick in Likely's direction for the seventh time. He sliced through the Spiders coverage team behind the red jerseys of his teammates before bouncing to the sideline. Likely accelerated and leaped for the pylon, putting an exclamation point on Maryland's 50-21 blowout victory over Richmond at Byrd Stadium with a 67-yard touchdown.
In his dashes for the end zone, Likely carved his place into the Big Ten Conference record books.
The junior's 233 punt return yards broke the league record of 201 set by Iowa's Nile Kinnick in 1939, and moved him up to fifth all-time in Maryland history with 663 career punt return yards. Plus, he had 63 kick return yards, including a 42-yarder on the opening kickoff to set the tone for the day.
"After the opening kickoff, the opening kick return, I just knew it was probably going to be a good day," Likely said.
Likely's electric performance on special teams was a welcome sight for the Terps, who were tasked with replacing a number of playmakers on offense and stalwarts in defense entering this fall. During preseason camp, players talked about doubters and lower expectations from the outside and how there was a "hunger" in looking to prove people wrong this season.
And Likely showed he can be a big part of contributing to Maryland's success with his third career punt return touchdown, and by putting the Terps in good field position almost every time he returned a punt.
"I don't know if there's enough superlatives to use in regards to Will Likely," coach Randy Edsall said. "Our guys know that we've got a weapon back there, and if they do their job, then he's got a chance to score."
Often with a short field ahead of it, Maryland's offense bullied Richmond up front. The Terps rushed for 341 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per rush, with running back Brandon Ross leading the way with a career-high 150 yards on 18 attempts and a touchdown. After Likely returned the opening kickoff to Maryland's 46-yard line, quarterback Perry Hills handed off to Ross on the game's first play, and the redshirt senior went 15 yards, the first of his seven carries that went for more than 10 yards.
"I was just hitting it and reading it," Ross said. "Our line got bigger and stronger in the offseason. That showed today."
Saturday marked Hills' first start since a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 20, 2012 ended his true freshman season. He was shaky at first and didn't complete his first four pass attempts, including an interception when he underthrew wide receiver Levern Jacobs.
But Hills rebounded to finish 12 of 21 for 138 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He completed passes to eight different players, with Jacobs, wide receivers Amba Etta-Tawo and D.J. Moore, and tight end Avery Edwards each catching two passes.
"I was happy to be back out there," Hills said. "I mean, I'm not the type of guy that likes standing on the sideline. That's not where I want to be. But I was happy to come out there and get a win today."
Hills displayed some athleticism and rushed three times for 25 yards with a long of 13, and he didn't take any sacks. He wasn't helped by a couple drops by his receivers, and once he found his rhythm, he was able to put his throws on target.
"He hasn't really played since 2012, but I thought he managed a game pretty well," Edsall said. "I thought he just wouldn't let it loose. He wouldn't just throw. Second half, I thought he did a little bit more of throwing the ball rather than aiming it."
The Maryland defense sacked Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta four times and held the Spiders to 276 yards on offense. A few lapses helped Richmond take a 14-13 lead in the second quarter, but the Terps buckled down and the offense went on to score 37 straight points from the end of the second quarter through late in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Even with the Terps' offseason losses — quarterback C.J. Brown, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and six of the starters from the front seven — Likely showed there's still a spark, still a burst present.
Maryland has its expectations for the season. Likely has the expectation of reaching the end zone every time he touches the ball. And Saturday, he showed what they could accomplish.
"Guys push me," Likely said. "I push them. And as a group, we just work collectively. We're on a mission. We're on a goal for the season."
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