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After sophomore slump, Maryland’s Joseph Petrino encouraged by ‘big-time kick’ vs. Minnesota

In a single game, Maryland junior Joseph Petrino experienced the highs and lows of being a kicker.

Petrino lined up for a 51-yard field-goal attempt with less than 25 seconds left in the second quarter of Friday night’s home opener against Big Ten rival Minnesota. His kick had plenty of leg, but the ball caromed off the left goal post and dropped to the turf, leaving the Terps still facing a 28-21 deficit.

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“I thought I had it,” Petrino said three days later. “Once I kicked it, it was going straight down the middle. I almost started celebrating. Then it started drifting to the left, and then it hit the upright, and I was devastated. I didn’t talk to anyone in the locker room at halftime. I came back out and started warming back up.”

Then midway through the fourth quarter, Petrino was sent out again for another 51-yard try. This time, he split the uprights for a career-long field goal that exceeded his previous college best by 11 yards.

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“Just relief just because I missed the first one,” Petrino said of his emotions after his successful try. “I knew it was going to be a close game. So I knew that I had to be on top of my game, and missing that first one, it really set me back a little bit. And then once I kicked the second one, I knew it was going in. I didn’t even wait for the referee to judge that it was in. I just started running to the sideline and celebrating with my teammates.”

Maryland’s 45-44 overtime win against the Golden Gophers was punctuated by sterling performances from sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (394 passing yards, 59 rushing yards, five total touchdowns) and fifth-year senior running back Jake Funk (221 yards, one touchdown). It might even be remembered for Minnesota redshirt sophomore kicker Brock Walker’s missed extra-point attempt that cemented the victory.

But the Terps' first win of the season would not have been possible if not for Petrino, the 5-foot-1, 182-pound soccer convert. His 51-yarder was the longest field goal in program history since Sept. 30, 2017, when Henry Darmstadter made a 51-yarder against — guess who? — the Gophers.

Despite banking the earlier 51-yarder off the goalpost, Petrino had the backing of his teammates.

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“That’s what he does,” Tagovailoa said. “Coach [Mike Locksley] said we have the best kicker in the nation, and we all trust in him. The hold was good, the snap was good, and the protection was good. If we give Petrino enough time, he’s going to do what he does. That was a big-time kick.”

Added junior safety Jordan Mosley: “I never lost confidence. I didn’t think he would miss it. I had complete confidence that he would make that one.”

Petrino’s path to becoming a college kicker began at Richmond Hill High School in Georgia, where he was convinced by an assistant football coach on Matthew LeZotte’s staff to give up soccer.

LeZotte, a former quarterback at James Madison, said Petrino’s unfamiliarity with football actually worked in his favor.

“He really didn’t understand the game of football,” LeZotte said. “So there was never a situation that was too big for him. He was like, ‘This is my job, this is what the coaches have asked me to do, I’m going to go do it.’ He was never frazzled by a situation or a scenario.”

LeZotte said he would test Petrino’s mental toughness by agreeing to eliminate post-practice sprints for the entire team if Petrino could make a long field goal. He would also organize a drill in which Petrino had to hit the right or left upright.

LeZotte said Petrino resolutely handled every task and every live-game scenario.

“That’s who he is,” LeZotte said. “When everyone was coming through the doors to recruit him, we said, ‘He’s going to be a gunslinger that’s going to be ready to fire away whenever he is called on. He’s not going to dwell on the past.’ He knows what comes with the territory. He’s really focused on doing his job and executing.”

The first true freshman to start at kicker at Maryland since Brad Craddock in 2012, Petrino was the last full-time kicker at the FBS or Football Championship Subdivision levels in 2018 to miss a field-goal attempt. He completed the year going 12-for-14 on field-goal tries and 40-of-41 on PATs. His nine extra points against Illinois tied a school record.

Last season though, Petrino attempted only five field goals, making two. He also went 36-for-38 on extra points. While Petrino said he dealt with a left groin injury during the season, the offense faced only 19 fourth downs inside opponents' 30-yard line, which Locksley said contributed to Petrino’s decline in production.

“Last year by the end of the year, offensively, we struggled there down the stretch and did not present enough opportunities for Joseph,” Locksley said. “Complementary football is being able to move the football down the field and finish with points. Last season, we struggled down the stretch on offense against some really good teams. This year so far, we’ve had some opportunities where we’re moving the ball into position for Joseph to get these opportunities. I’m really pleased with the way he’s kicking right now.”

Petrino said he was uncertain about his standing with Locksley.

“Last year, under Coach Locksley’s first year, I didn’t have my best year,” he said. “So I was a little worried about his confidence in me. So just knowing that him as well as the players have that confidence in me, it means the world to me. I feel like I can go out there, and they’ll have my back either way.”

When the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation, Petrino resorted to hopping fences to practice kicks at high school football fields and pantomiming potential game-winning field goals inside his parents' home. He has worked with special teams coordinator George Helow on keeping his head down during kicks, following through, and adding more height to become more consistent.

“I just try to keep a neutral mindset,” Petrino said. “Whatever it is, just go onto the next play. Beforehand, I just keep telling myself, ‘You’ve been in this position a million times. You’ve made this kick a million times. Just go out there and do your job.’”

Petrino said he is aiming to convert every field-goal try of 40 yards or less and make 80% of his attempts from longer than 40 yards. Locksley said Petrino is equipped to reach that objective.

“He’s shown us that he’s capable of making those types of kicks,” Locksley said. “I’m glad that he was able to connect on the big one there and get us within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and I think that will hopefully continue to build his confidence. We have the utmost confidence in him, but there’s definitely a boost there when I saw him celebrate and get really excited about making it.”

MARYLAND@PENN STATE

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

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TV: BTN Radio: 105.7 FM

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Line: Penn State by 25

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