COLLEGE PARK — More than four hours after it began, more than 100 points and nearly 1,200 yards later, it came down to a matter of a couple of feet on a 2-point conversion play in overtime between Maryland and No. 10 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.
It was a play that interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada felt his players could make, in a game he thought they deserved to win, on a stage that, unlike their counterparts on the Buckeyes, few Terps had ever played before.
After the teams traded touchdowns in overtime — a 5-yard run by Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. that gave the Buckeyes their only lead of the game and a 1-yard run by Maryland sophomore running back Tayon Fleet-Davis — it came down to Canada’s decision to win in the first overtime than than go to a second.
“It was a gut call,” Canada said later. “They were scoring, we were scoring, we had the ball. We had to make one play to win. … Obviously it didn’t work. That was my call. I don’t know if we were trying to be aggressive, I was just trying to win.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome’s rollout pass was a little off-target, too strong, too low and a few feet wide of freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who had stopped in his route and was open in the end zone.
As the ball squirted away, Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) celebrated its come-from-behind 52-51 victory before many of its fans in the announced crowd of 38,177 at Maryland Stadium that kept its hopes alive for a Big Ten East title going into next Saturday’s game in Columbus against No. 3 Michigan.
“Every game is different,” Canada said. “I made the decision [to go for it] before they scored. I sat with Pig and talked to him. We had two choices. Two 2-point plays, one we both liked. We called it. It was a little bit off.”
Asked about Canada’s decision to go for the win, a very “relieved” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, “I would have probably done the same thing if I was that coach, the way they were gaining yards on us  and I’m relieved we won.”
Needing a victory for the third straight week to become bowl-eligible, Maryland (5-6, 3-5) lost its second straight down-to-the-wire game and will need to win at No. 14 Penn State to have a chance to extend its season.
The defeat ruined another spectacular performance by redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland Jr. A week after rushing for 220 yards and a touchdown in a 2-point loss at Indiana, McFarland ran for 298 yards — 6 short of tying LaMont Jordan’s school record — and two touchdowns.
The final play also overshadowed a strong, if erratic performance, by Pigrome, who completed just six of 13 passes for a career-high 191 yards but threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jones to put the Terps ahead 38-31 with 7:50 left and a 60-yard completion to freshman receiver Darryl Jones to set up Fleet-Davis’ score.
Asked to describe the emotions of a game that during which the Terps took an early 17-3 lead on touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards by McFarland, graduate linebacker Tre Watson didn’t hesitate.
“To put it into words, we are distraught right now at this point,” Watson said. “There are no words that can reconcile what happened to us.”
Said Haskins, “It’s just shocking still.”
Coming in as 14-point underdogs, the Terps appeared to be easy road fodder for the Buckeyes despite some of Ohio State’s own less-than-impressive performances of late, especially on defense.
Maryland wasn’t listening.
“Our mentality wasn’t to upset Ohio State, it was to beat Ohio State,” Watson said. “There was not a moment in the game today where we didn’t expect that we were going to win. Down the last second, even then we thought we had a chance. Unfortunately we weren’t able to pull it out.”
Behind the play of Haskins, Ohio State cut it deficit to 24-17 by halftime. Yet every time the Buckeyes seemed on the brink of taking control, they either made a mistake or the Terps made a play to keep their lead, including a 34-yard pick-six by senior cornerback Ra’Von Davis to start the second half.
Haskins and sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins sparked Ohio State’s comeback. Haskins completed 28 of 38 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns to break Ohio State’s single-season passing yardage mark and tie the mark for most touchdown passes in a season. Dobbins rushed 37 times for 203 yards and a touchdown.
Asked whether he ever lost faith, Haskins said: “No, I never lose that. God always has a [plan]. Whether you win or lose, you have to remain strong and do what we do as a group and as a team.”
The same might be said about Maryland as well. Many figured after last week’s down-to-the-wire loss at Indiana, when Pigrome’s fumble (after an apparent face-mask penalty wasn’t called) would have been crushing for a team that once stood at 5-3 for the season.
“I’m guessing that everybody that doesn’t sit in this room [the auditorium at the Gossett Team House that is used for team meetings and news conferences] didn’t give us a chance,” Canada said. “The season was over last week. That’s what everybody thought. We were written off. And these guys bounced back and played a tremendous game against a highly ranked opponent. Played very, very well.
“They deserve a lot of credit for that. They deserve all the credit for sticking together, for believing in each other and for playing as hard as they possibly could play. Obviously I wished they would have been able to win for them. They deserved it. But again, you got to [make] one more play. You're not disrespecting anybody. You played Ohio State. They won the game. They made one more play than we did. Our players are special and I’m really, really proud to be around them.”
The Terps still have one more chance at becoming bowl-eligible, against a Penn State team that has not looked all that impressive of late, including a 20-7 win Saturday over Rutgers.
Asked whether it will be difficult to recover emotionally from a potentially devastating loss, Canada smiled.
“It won’t be hard at all,” he said. “Our guys will be fine. Tomorrow will be hard. We’ll watch it [a replay of the game]. There will be a play — should have made this play, could have made this play. Throw it away here, make this tackle.
“We’ll coach it, we’ll talk [about it] and we’ll get up and come in on Monday, get a plan together and they’ll go to work. I have no doubt that we’ll back and play really hard next week. That’s who we are.”
Don Markus, reporter: The cynics might ask where was this offense for most of the season, especially against upper-echelon teams.
While some might wonder what took so long for interim coach Matt Canada to go to redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome — he started because redshirt freshman Kasim Hill suffered a torn ACL last week — the spectacular performance by redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland Jr. and freshman wide receivers Jeshaun Jones and Darryl Jones should make Maryland fans hopeful that all is not lost for next season and beyond.
Peter Schmuck, columnist: Obviously, the oddsmakers knew something. They had the Ohio State Buckeyes as a surprisingly thin 14-point favorite, and they would have lost this game if Tyrrell Pigrome had been able to complete one last short pass in overtime.
The 2-point conversion attempt failed and the Terps missed a chance to pull a huge upset and become bowl-eligible. It was a heart-breaking loss after Maryland converted big play after big play throughout the afternoon, but it was a wildly exciting way to close out a tumultuous season in College Park.