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Maryland becomes bowl-eligible with 31-13 win over Rutgers in regular-season finale

After six losses in seven games, Maryland became bowl eligible with a win over Rutgers.

There was no wild comeback by the road team as Rutgers did in erasing a 25-point deficit at Maryland two years ago. There was no ruining the home team’s bowl chances as the Terps did to the Scarlet Knights last season in Piscataway, N.J.

A four-game losing streak, a three-game nightmare and a two-year wait since their last bowl appearance ended Saturday for the Terps with a 31-13 victory over the Big Ten's bottom-feeder before a sparse senior day crowd at Maryland Stadium -- announced, generously, at 30,220.

After starting the season 4-0 and getting to 5-2 with a victory over Michigan State on Oct. 22, Maryland (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) became bowl-eligible in coach DJ Durkin's first season. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) finished the season under first-year coach Chris Ash with a nine-game losing streak.

Calling it “a great day for us, a great day for our program,” Durkin credited the group of 22 seniors who were honored before the game – several of whom played a big part in the victory -- for helping him get his message across since taking over the program nearly a year ago.

“It’s hard to put into words, to express as a coach," Durkin said. "When you come to a program, you’ve got a group of guys that don’t know you at all and you basically take their world and flip it upside down and ask them to not only buy into what you’re doing, but really be the leaders of it.

“That’s probably a strange dynamic that I don’t think can be simulated any other way than it is. For what our guys have done, what our seniors have done, how they bought in and really embraced what we’re doing – and we do a lot of things that are different than most and out of the box - and they’ve bought it in.”

Along with the return of fifth-year quarterback Perry Hills, early touchdowns by seniors Kenneth Goins Jr. (Gilman) and Teldrick Morgan (Meade) helped give the Terps an early 14-0 lead. Goins raced a career-best 46 yards for the first touchdown and Morgan returned a punt 83 yards for the second. It was Morgan's first punt returned for a touchdown since he started playing football.

Hills sat out last week’s loss at Nebraska after being forced to the sideline the two previous weeks against Ohio State and at Michigan with injuries to both shoulders. After completing just nine of 15 passes for 96 yards while surviving four sacks, he said “it felt good just to have to manage the game and let everyone else do all the work.”

Asked if the touchdown by Goins set the tone on a day when the Terps rushed for 318 yards – including 168 on 11 carries by sophomore Ty Johnson – Durkin said, “I think that definitely carried over. I thought we played really well up front and were physical in the run game all day long.”

Goins made his first start of the season at running back, a decision Durkin said was based both on his seniority and his unselfishness.

“Talk about an unselfish guy, Kenny’s been a starter and a big contributor on all four phases of special teams for us. He’s been a contributor on offense, some games more than others,” Durkin said. “His teammates love him, he competes hard, he practices hard.”

The victory was all but clinched when another senior, little-used fullback Andrew Stefanelli, plowed in for a 1-yard touchdown on his first career carry late in the third quarter after the Scarlet Knights had closed to within 21-13.

Durkin said his decision to use Stefanelli with the game on the line was based on “a tremendous amount of respect for him."

"He’s tough as they come," Durkin said. "He has a role on our team as a fullback. We don’t play a lot of sets with a fullback. What he does, he does really well. He never says a word. He always competes, he always plays hard. Just happy for him, excited for him.”

The seniors were not the only players to lead Maryland back to bowl eligibility.

Aside from Johnson and Goins, who rushed for a career-high 81 yards on 10 carries, true freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome rushed for a 28-yard touchdown on his only carry late in the second quarter to give Maryland a 21-7 halftime lead.

Junior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. led the Terps with a career-high 15 tackles, including two of Maryland's seven sacks of Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno. Carter also took a ball out of the hands of Rutgers running back Justin Goodwin after Goodwin made a catch inside the Maryland 10-yard line.

“We knew coming into this week we had to be better than what we’ve been,” Carter said, alluding to the string of one-sided blowouts to then-No. 3 Michigan (59-3), then-No. 5 Ohio State (62-3) and then-No. 18 Nebraska (28-7). “We knew we had to go out and get the win for the seniors today.”

Asked what it meant to become bowl-eligible, Carter said, “It definitely means a lot because last year we weren’t eligible, so we didn’t get the experience. It means a lot to be bowl-eligible for the seniors and for the freshmen for it being their first time to experience it and continue to make bowl games for the rest of the time they were here.”

The bowl matchups won’t be announced until Dec. 4, but it appears that the Terps could be headed to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26, the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 27 or the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Durkin, who was given a postgame Gatorade shower by linebacker Jesse Aniebonam after the final gun sounded.

“Just being down in the locker room and seeing the look on their faces is amazing. ... To go through 12 months of that together and get this reward, to say the least is well-deserved by those guys,” Durkin said. “To know their careers here just got extended and they get a postseason ballgame and we get more time together is great.”

NOTES: Freshman kicker Mike Shinsky (McDonogh) made a 41-yard field goal on his first career attempt to close out the scoring after replacing junior Adam Greene (Broadneck), who had missed earlier from 46 and 34 yards. ... Reserve senior quarterback Caleb Rowe proposed to his girlfriend on the field after the game.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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