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Maryland football opens DJ Durkin era by running over Howard, 52-13

COLLEGE PARK — Years from now, Maryland football fans hope to look back to Saturday's season opener against Howard as the start of the program's turnaround under DJ Durkin. Who knows, maybe they'll say Durkin is the second coming of "The Bear."

With a 35-0 lead by halftime, Durkin found himself right behind the legendary Paul Bryant for the most points scored for a coach in his Maryland debut. An eventual 52-13 victory was more the result of Durkin emptying his bench, including playing three quarterbacks.

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It turned out to be only eight points shy of the number the Terps put up in a 60-6 win against Guilford in 1945, Bryant's first and only season at Maryland before he found his way to houndstooth hats, history and sainthood at Alabama.

In front of an announced crowd of 35,474, Maryland scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, sandwiching them around the first blocked punt that was turned into a touchdown in two years. The offense amassed 519 yards, including 315 yards rushing.

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"When you look at the first half, I thought it was a really clean game, we didn't have a procedure penalty or anything presnap, controllable penalties that a lot of times in a first game you get," Durkin said. "That's just a testament to our guys playing and our coaches getting them ready."

Redshirt senior Perry Hills, who became the first Terps quarterback to start three opening games since Brian Cummings (1995-97), completed his first 10 passes and finished the game 14-for-19 for 126 yards in a little over a half.

Hills didn't mind allowing others – including freshman backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome – to steal a little of his spotlight.

"Everyone did their job with it. Everyone did a great job with it," Hills said. "We have playmakers, so why not get them the ball? It's a team sport, as long as you're scoring points and winning games, it doesn't matter."

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Durkin said that he thought Hills' solid performance justified the decision to give the senior a chance to start – and win – his third season opener in as many tries. Hills also took the victory kneel after Pigrome and another true freshman, Max Bortenschlager, made their respective college debuts.

"He made great decisions out there. He executed our offense really well," Durkin said of Hills. "We didn't have any miscues, mishaps or anything. The ballhandling, the ball security … the flow of the offense. I thought Perry did an unbelievable job."

If Hills looked more efficient in his passing than he had in the past, Pigrome showed why it might be difficult for Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell to keep the former Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year off the field this season.

Pigrome led the Terps to a touchdown on his first possession in the third quarter, backing up a pair of 25-yard passes to senior DeAndre Lane (Catonsville) with a 5-yard touchdown run. Lane finished with team and career highs of five catches and 73 receiving yards. Pigrome later broke off a sensational 25-yard run that led to a 36-yard field goal by junior kicker Adam Greene (Broadneck).

"Piggy went out and showed us what he could do," Durkin said of Pigrome, who finished 4-for-6 passing for 60 yards while rushing for 53 yards on seven carries.

The same was true for several other true freshmen among the 14 that played.

Running back Lorenzo Harrison, who was not even on the team's two-deep before the game, picked up a team-high 67 rushing yards, including a 10-yard touchdown. Running back Jake Funk finished with 59 yards on eight carries, and scored the last touchdown.

Asked about the play of the freshmen, Durkin said, "It was great. Get 'em in there. Let's go, and we'll continue to do that. Those guys helped us today and they're going to have to continue to help us during the season."

Not only did Durkin play a lot of freshmen, he also used All-Big Ten cornerback Will Likely as well as his two top running backs, sophomore Ty Johnson and graduate transfer Trey Edmunds, to block a punt.

With the Bison paying more attention to Likely on the left side, Johnson batted down the punt and Edmunds – the son of former Maryland tight end Ferrell Edmunds - scooped up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

"We'll use our best players on all phases of special teams," Durkin said. "Guys are going to play offense and defense, whatever. It's what gets our best guys on the field to give us the best chance to win."

Along with the one-sided nature of the victory – albeit against a Football Championship Subdivision team that won only one game a year ago and had been outscored 125-0 against its previous two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents – much of what transpired at what used to be called Byrd Stadium seemed to be fresh and new.

From the players and coaches walking down the steep stadium steps and across the field to the Gossett Team House two hours before kickoff, to the pregame warmups and music, much felt different in Durkin's first game than it did the past five seasons under Randy Edsall.

Hills, one of the few players who had been around for four of them, noticed.

"It almost felt like back in freshman year, seeing the stadium for the first time," Hills said.

Durkin said his favorite part of the afternoon came in joining the student section in singing the fight song, and seeing the faces of his players in the locker room afterward.

"We have worked these guys really, really hard," Durkin said. "I can't state that enough. This has been, and they'll tell you, probably the most demanding portion of their life. So when you go in the locker room afterward and see the looks on their faces like complete joy of going out and getting a win and getting a win together, that's why you coach. There's nothing better."

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