BRONX, NEW YORK — In a city that never sleeps and a stadium built by icons, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and Maryland delivered a dominant performance in a 54-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to secure its first bowl victory since 2010 and first winning season in seven years.
The temperature at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, dropped by the second, but Tagovailoa, a redshirt sophomore who has represented stability for a program hungry for success, stayed hot. He made big play after big play, tormenting the Hokies defense to finish 20-for-24 for 265 yards and two touchdowns and lead a Terps offense that totaled 481 yards and handed a depleted Virginia Tech its worst loss since 1982.
In the win, Maryland (7-6) set a school record for the most passing yards in a season (3,823 set in 1993), while Tagovailoa tied Scott Milanovich’s single-season passing touchdown record (26). The Terps’ 54 points are also the most in a bowl game in school history, while the 44-point margin of victory is the Big Ten Conference’s second-largest ever.
“I hope it quiets some of the critics and [Tagovailoa] gets the respect he deserves,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for Taulia. I’m really proud of him and how he responded. He’s had a positive impact on others.”
As Tagovailoa was named the bowl’s Most Valuable Player and confetti sprinkled through the air, he turned to the crowd of Maryland fans and yelled the words Locksley uttered moments before, a slogan that has become a rallying cry for the program: “The best is ahead.”
“Coming into this game, we knew what was at stake,” Tagovailoa said. “It means a lot. I feel like our Maryland family has waited a long time for us to win games. It’s hard to stay patient.”
The Terps are still rebuilding, but Locksley, who completed his third season at the helm, was determined to take this team to the next level by becoming bowl eligible for the first time in five years. Despite getting steamrolled by Ohio State, Michigan and other conference powers, Maryland remained focused on the end goal. The Terps defeated Rutgers in the season finale, securing a postseason berth.
During the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s game, the Terps knew a win against the Hokies would not only secure a long sought-after winning season, but set the standard for what Locksley envisions this program to become.
“I can’t put into words how proud I am of this team,” Locksley said. “As I told the seniors before the game, we will be forever indebted to those guys because they really put this thing on a foundation that I think showed the trajectory of what the program can be. We’ve come a long way as a program since 2019.”
Tagovailoa spent the majority of the first quarter throwing short passes, but he unleashed a bomb in the second quarter. Tagovailoa, the brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, launched a 70-yard pass to senior receiver Darryl Jones for his first career receiving touchdown, giving the Terps a 14-3 advantage with 9:13 remaining in the half.
On Maryland’s next drive, Tagovailoa threw a 28-yard pass to receiver Brian Cobbs, who made a one-handed grab that set up a 4-yard rushing touchdown by freshman running back Antwan Littleton II with six minutes to go.
After Virginia Tech (6-7) quarterback Connor Blumrick — who made his first career start after transferring from Texas A&M — cut Maryland’s lead to 21-10 with a 3-yard keeper, Maryland was pinned at its 14-yard line with a minute left to score. Tagovailoa completed five consecutive passes to set up Joseph Petrino’s 44-yard field goal that extended the lead to 24-10 at halftime.
“We were just trying to get whatever we could,” Tagovailoa said. “I think that whole drive was everyone doing their job.”
Maryland led 27-10 with under seven minutes in the third quarter when, on fourth-and-4 at the Hokies’ 32-yard line, Tagovailoa surveyed the field until he found Jones wide open for a 32-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-10. Jones, who entered the game with zero touchdowns in his four-year career, had 111 yards and a pair of scores on four catches.
“We have been waiting a long time for a game like this,” Locksley said on Jones’ performance. “It’s only fitting that he would get it in his last game as a Terp.”
During the final seconds of the third, Tagovailoa ran for 22 yards, setting up a 2-yard rushing touchdown by freshman Roman Hemby to extend the lead to 41-10.
It was an uphill battle from the start for a Hokies team led by interim coach J.C. Price, who was tasked with leading a makeshift roster before giving way to former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry. After beating rival Virginia in the regular-season finale, Virginia Tech lost quarterbacks, wide receivers, defensive lineman, and defensive ends to the transfer portal or the NFL draft.
It didn’t matter to the Terps, who pitched a shutout and held the Hokies to 63 total yards in the second half. Fittingly, the defense added to the lopsided score with a touchdown of its own early in the fourth quarter. Junior safety Nick Cross sacked Blumrick, forcing a fumble, and senior Greg Rose recovered it and ran 11 yards for a score that put the Terps up 47-10.
“We did a good job at controlling the line of scrimmage,” Locksley said. “This is the way we have to play team defense. Our defensive staff had them ready to go.”
Maryland set the Pinstripe Bowl’s single-game scoring record, which was previously held by Duke (44 points in 2015). The Terps’ record-breaking performance was jump-started by sophomore cornerback Tarheeb Still, who scored on a 92-yard punt return to give the Terps a 7-0 lead with 12:44 remaining in the first quarter. It was the longest punt return in school history and the first in the bowl’s 11-year history.
“Guys have been bugging me all year that I haven’t made a play on punt return,” Still said. “It felt good.”
After giving Locksley a Gatorade shower on the sideline, the Terps hoisted the Pinstripe Bowl trophy while some players danced on the field.
“The best is ahead,” Locksley said once again.