COLLEGE PARK — Maryland's offensive players slowly walked off the field. Some, such as wide receiver Jacquille Veii, aggressively unstrapped the chinstraps from their helmets and slammed their arms to their side. Others trudged off, seemingly in disbelief and in the process of comprehending what had just transpired.
Maryland had gotten a break, a Rutgers fumble that gave the Terps possession at the Scarlet Knights' 45-yard line with 2:54 left in the fourth quarter, with Maryland needing just a field goal to tie the game.
Minutes later, Terps players were taking that dejected walk off the field while players and coaches on Rutgers' sideline jumped up and down in jubilation after the Scarlet Knights secured a stunning 41-38 victory by stopping Maryland on a fourth-and-1 from Rutgers' 36-yard line with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
This was a game Maryland should have won. Instead, the Terps blew a 25-point first half lead and were unable to capitalize on two late opportunities in Rutgers territory in front of an announced crowd of 36,673 on Senior Day at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
"It's disappointing to say the least here this evening," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. "We had opportunities to win the game and didn't. When we needed to make some plays, we didn't. We had trouble stopping them on defense. And when we did have them stopped, we made some errors that gave them some extra possessions, which is not good in the game of football."
A win would have improved Maryland's bowl positioning, possibly earning it a spot in the well-regarded TaxSlayer Bowl or Foster Farms Bowl.
Instead, the Terps (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) appear likely to end up in a much less desirable game, such as the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Maryland's bowl destination will be announced on Dec. 7.
"For the seniors, including myself, to go out with a loss, it hurts," Terps senior quarterback C.J. Brown said. "To be up 35-10 [near the end of] the half and for them to come back at home on Senior Night, it's not a good feeling. It definitely leaves a sour taste in our mouths."
The loss came at the hands of former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who coached the Terps for 10 years before being fired following the 2010 season.
Hired by Rutgers earlier this year after a three-season hiatus from coaching, the 67-year old Friedgen was coaching in his first game at Byrd Stadium since his dismissal.
After Maryland took a 35-10 lead late in the second quarter, Friedgen's offense scored touchdowns on each of its next four possessions to cut the Terps' lead to 35-31 with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
Rutgers (7-5, 3-5) tied the game at 38 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gary Nova to wide receiver Andre Patton after Maryland extended its lead to 38-31 on a 50-yard field goal by kicker Brad Craddock.
Nova then led a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with what proved to be a decisive 25-yard field goal by Kyle Federico with 6:14 left in the fourth quarter.
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The Scarlet Knights finished with 491 yards. Nova completed 28 of 42 passes for 347 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, including 14 of 16 for 196 yards with two touchdowns during the second half.
"It was a tough game," Maryland linebacker L.A. Goree said. "They seemed to have the answers to what we were doing and made the right plays when they had to. They kept driving the ball down the field, and we had a hard time stopping them."
The Terps had two opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead. However, Craddock missed a 54-field goal with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter and the Terps later failed on fourth-and-1 after defensive end Keith Bowers recovered a fumble to give Maryland new life.
After racking up 333 yards of total offense and 35 points in the first half, the Terps were held to just 143 yards and three points during the second half.
"We weren't able to get a rhythm in the second half for some reason," Maryland running back Brandon Ross said. "We just couldn't get anything going."
The Terps will now have to wait to find out their bowl destination.
"What we have to do now as a program is just look at these things and make sure they don't happen again," Edsall said. "And when we play again in a month, [we need to] utilize this season to propel us forward to make us better."