For nearly three quarters Saturday at BB&T Field, a young and undermanned Maryland defense tried to keep the Terrapins from continuing their two-month free fall. And, for a few scant seconds at the end of the first half and a few minutes midway through the third quarter against Wake Forest, the offense seemed to come to life too.
It didn't last.
The defense got tired and the offense made several costly mistakes — none more deflating than an illegal shift penalty against junior wide receiver Kevin Dorsey that negated what would have been a 17-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Davin Meggett that could have put the Terps into the lead with 7:40 left in the third quarter.
Placekicker Nick Ferrara then missed a 36-yard field goal, and things unraveled from there as the Demon Deacons scored three touchdowns in four possessions for a 31-10 victory before an announced crowd of 30,112. The victory broke a three-game losing streak for Wake Forest (6-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and made the Demon Deacons bowl-eligible.
Maryland's seventh straight defeat was also the fifth straight league game and the sixth time this season that the Terps (2-9, 1-7) lost by at least 10 points.
Maryland had gone into the second half tied with Wake Forest at 7-7 after a 31-yard touchdown catch-and-run by freshman tailback Justus Pickett with 12 seconds left in the second quarter.
But the penalty that nullified Meggett's touchdown, the missed field goal by Ferrara and a subsequent stalled drive after the Terps blocked a punt deep in Wake Forest territory summed up what could become the second 10-loss season in school history if Maryland loses next Saturday at N.C. State.
"When you have scoring opportunities and you don't take advantage of them, and then you have a touchdown called back because of a penalty, that makes it very, very difficult to win," first-year Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "Defensively, we played very, very well in the first half, and in parts of the second half we ended up giving up some big plays that hurt us."
Asked if a defense led by freshman tackle Andre Monroe's three first-half sacks of sophomore Tanner Price (20 of 32 for 320 yards and three TDs) ran out of steam in the second half, Edsall said, "We didn't have as many guys rotating up front, and they were on the field quite a bit. I thought they played hard and they did everything they possibly could, but they might have got a little bit worn down."
Offensively, the Terps struggled again in the red zone, failing to score on all four of their chances and becoming the first team that Wake Forest has shut out inside the 20-yard line in five years. Along with the penalty against Dorsey and two missed field goals by Ferrara, junior tight end Matt Furstenburg dropped a wide-open pass in the middle of the end zone with 2:20 left in the game.
"We lost a lot [of points] out there," said sophomore quarterback C.J. Brown, who led Maryland in rushing with 110 yards on 13 carries and completed 20 of 42 passes for 186 yards, starting in place of an injured Danny O'Brien. "It's unfortunate because our defense played good."
Edsall was uncharacteristically relaxed after the game, his upbeat mood at his press conference in stark contrast to how he has responded after many of the team's recent losses.
Speaking of his defense that often had three freshmen on the line, Edsall said, "I have seen progress out of those guys. They're doing things better, they're practicing better."
Edsall was also unusually calm and candid in talking about Ferrara's struggles. After making four field goals in five attempts in a season-opening win over Miami, the junior has made only eight of 14 since. He also had his first two punts Saturday travel a total of 47 yards, the first going just 15 yards.
"This is the frustrating thing about coaching, here's a young man who's trying so hard, he hurts himself," Edsall. "I told him, 'Just relax, you've got a good leg, you're a good kicker, you're a good punter.' After I did that he started booming the punts. It's like I got to lay him down on the couch before the game and talk to him and remind him. He's his own worst enemy."
With one more game remaining on the road in Raleigh, N.C., Edsall and his players could add a couple of dubious marks to this already disappointing season.
Edsall will try to avoid joining Ron Vanderlinden as the only coach in Maryland history to lose six straight ACC games by double digits — previously done over the 1997 and 1998 seasons. The Terps will also try to avoid joining the 2009 team as the only ones in school history to lose 10 games in a season.
Like his coach, Monroe chose to accentuate the positive.
"We've fallen pretty far, but there's nowhere to go but up," Monroe said. "Why not take it there?"