COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It wasn't until after the game that teammates started reminding Caleb Rowe about the NC State contest last year.
In a joyous Maryland locker room, the sophomore quarterback could enjoy a laugh with his teammates. The Terrapins certainly earned one after coming back from last week's meltdown at Florida State and gutting out a rain-soaked 27-26 win over Virginia Saturday in perhaps the final meeting of the two rivals.
And it was Rowe, stepping in for injured ACC Player of the Year candidate C.J. Brown, who played a starring role in just his second career start. Rowe completed 18-of-34 passes for 332 yards and the game-winning score late in the fourth quarter. Then he and the Terrapins (5-1 overall, 1-1 ACC) hung on as Virginia drove close enough to attempt a game-winning field goal with 10 seconds to play.
"This wasn't just about this week," said Rowe, who had thrown just 24 passes all season - 17 last week at FSU. "I've been preparing like a starter all season."
After hitting four field goals, Virginia's Alec Vozenilek missed for the first time, sending a 42-yard attempt just wide right and avoiding the game's sixth lead change. Rowe did a kneel-down and the celebration was on for most of the 41,077 on hand at damp Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
Immediately, a lot of the veteran Terps thought about NC State last year, when then-true freshman Rowe came off the bench to guide the Terps to a short field goal attempt for the win only to have the kick go awry in a painful 20-18 loss, part of a rugged season.
"After the game everyone was joking about it," smiled Rowe. " The tables were turned this time. It's a great feeling to win, and I'm happy our team played well. This is a different year."
It's apropos that Maryland's 78th and final meeting with Virginia (2-4, 0-2) came down to the wire. The Terrapins have met the Cavaliers more than any other foe and now hold a 44-32-2 edge that may stand for a long while as Maryland moves on to the Big Ten next year. The victory also snapped a three-game Wahoos-winning streak in College Park.
"We know that's probably the biggest rivalry that we have in football here at the University of Maryland," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. "To be able to beat them for the last time, it's something special. I know that we got their best game today. And we knew we were going to get their best game because of the situation they were int."
That situation deteriorated with Virginia losing for the third consecutive week and the fourth time in the last five games as coach Mike London's seat grew just a little bit hotter.
The Cavaliers actually did a lot of things well - they amassed 505 yards of total offense, didn't turn the ball over and claimed two Maryland miscues on punt fumbles but Virginia just couldn't punch it in for touchdowns when they got close. That's why Vozenilek had made four field goals.
"The one thing that you want to be able to do is you always want to be good in red zone defense," said Edsall. "If the people get the ball down there, you don't want to give them touchdowns, you want to give them field goals. It's a mentality. We're not there yet but as long as that ball hasn't crossed the goal line you've got a chance."
And holding Virginia to two early field goals proved crucial as Edsall thought his team's confidence might have teetered if touchdowns had followed and Maryland had dug a hole. "With where we were and all the things that happened going into the Florida State game and then what transpired, I wasn't sure coming into today," said Edsall.
But the defense came up with enough plays, despite playing without linebacker Matt Robinson, out with a shoulder injury, and already down two veteran cornerbacks. Top pass-rusher Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil left the game with an injury in the first half and never returned and then Robinson's replacement, Alex Twine got tweaked in the second half.
Linebacker Cole Farrand blew into the backfield to stop tailback Kevin Parks on a key third-and-one at the Maryland 8, to force a 26-yard Vozenilek field goal that made it 26-20 with 7:11 to play. A touchdown might have done the Terrapins in.
Instead, Rowe and the offense took the field and began a game-winning march. First the "Gunslinger," as Edsall called him, hit Stefon Diggs for 21 yards to the Virginia 48. But then Rowe made a bad pitch on the option, Brandon Ross scurrying to pick it up and smothered to set up what became a third-and-21 situation.
"I've grown a lot since last year," said Rowe. "That was my fault on the pitch. I've always tried to put the bad play behind me and just keep playing."
Mission accomplished. Rowe dropped back, was flushed to his right and uncorked a long pass into the damp night air. Forty-seven yards down the field between two defenders, Deon Long came down with it at the 13-yard line.
"It was a fade-comeback, but the way they were playing it, the corner and the safety came down," said Long, who had 98 yards on four grabs. "I guess (the safety) saw Caleb scrambling out. I just ran as fast as I could and (Rowe) gave me a chance to catch it so I came through for him."
Two plays later, Rowe again moved to his right and this time located tight end Dave Stinebaugh for a 12-yard score and a one-point lead with 5:14 to play. "Caleb came out to the right and the ball came in a little low but I had to go down and get it," said Stinebaugh. "I got both hands under it."
Maryland's defense came up wit a three-and-out stop but the Terps couldn't get a first down when they got the ball back, and had to punt back to Virginia with 2:34 to play.
Virginia quarterback David Watford, who was erratic on several throws all day though he did complete 27 of 44 passes for 263 yards, hit Dominque Terrell for 10 yards and then a pass interference call - that Edsall didn't like one bit - was called on A.J. Hendy, setting up a first down on the Virginia 36. Watford it Darius Jennings over the middle for 21 yards and after two more completions, suddenly the Cavaliers were at the Maryland 27.
Edsall burned all three timeout trying to preserve some clock, and the Cavaliers spent three plays trying to position Vozenilek, a junior who to this point hadn't missed any of his six field goal attempts this season.
"We talk about the missed field goal at the end but third and 21 like that; you get off the field," said London, who also lamented his team's red zone offense. "You've got to go up and make that play and it's a whole different story."
It was a different story than last week for Maryland. The Terrapins opened the second half strong, moving 58 yards in eight plays to cash in on a Brad Craddock 36-yard field goal at 12:34, but put the Terps back in front 17-16. The big play was a 45-yard run by Ross on a nice option read by Rowe.
Ross finished with a team high 88 yards on 14 carries to go with a career high 81 receiving yards on three catches. Albert Reid had a 38-yard run and finished with 41 yards on three rushes, and freshman Jaquille Veill had a 16-yard. It wasn't much compared to Virginia's overpowering ground game, though.
Parks and Khalek Shepherd combined for 193 yards, part of Virginia's 242 rushing yards. Parks had 112 on 28 rushes, and Shepherd, 86 on 10 carries.
Parks had just peeled off a 19-yard run on Virginia's ensuing possession but then a procedure penalty and a big stop of Parks for a loss by Marcus Whitfield and Quinton Jefferson helped thwart the drive. On third down, Isaac Goins tackled a scrambling Watford before he could pick up a first down.
After an exchange of punts, the Terrapins found their big play groove again when Reid ran 38 yards on the first play of a drive. Three plays later, Rowe faced a third-and-13 but he made a quick read and pulled the ball down and scooted 19 yards up the middle for a first down. The next play, he threaded a 21-yard strike to Diggs on the sideline.
Diggs had six catches for 39 yards, and look for more from he and Long, according to Edsall who wants his quarterbacks - and there's a good chance Brown will be back from his concussion next week at Wake Forest - to trust the speedsters and throw the ball to them more, even in traffic.
The drive stalled inside the 15, and Brad Craddock hit a 32-yard field goal to make it 20-16 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers got a big play when Whitfield was offside on a third down incomplete pass. Parks then ran for 13, and two plays later Watford hit McGee for 11. Shepherd ran for 11 more. Five plays later, Parks broke loose around the right for a six-yard score and a 23-20 lead at 13:15 of the fourth quarter.
Virginia kicked away from Diggs but Levern Jacobs had a weaving 25-yard return to set the Terps up at the 40-yard line. Rowe through two incomplete passes and then his quick screen to Ross was stopped short of a first down, forcing the Terrapins to punt. Nathan Renfro uncorked a 43-yarder to pin Virginia back at the Cavalier 15.
The Terps stopped Virginia but on the punt, the ball grazed retreating up back Joe Riddle and Virginia's Matt Fortin recovered at the 17-yard line. Maryland again held the Cavs to a field goal, highlighted by Farrand's big third down stop.
Farrand was one of five Terps that had nine tackles but L.A. Goree chipped in a career high 15. Anthony Nixon also had a career high with 12 stops.
"We got a lot of penetration from the d-line," said Goree. "When you get that in the red zone, you're always going to prevail. We had a big play from Alex Twine down there and after that it seemed like the running backs were running softer."
The Cavaliers took a 16-14 lead to the half thanks to a late 63-yard drive and Alec Vozenilek's 27-yard field goal with just 19 seconds left in the half. The big play was Watford hitting Parks on a screen that turned into a 35-yard gain all the way to the Maryland 37. Jake McGee then made a sensational one-hand grab on the sideline for 14 more yards, one of eight catches for 114 yards for the talented tight end. The Cavs got another first down but then Maryland stopped them, a hard rush by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue forcing a third down incompletion.
The Terps saw Virginia control most of the first quarter, building a 6-0 lead before Ross turned in his biggest play of the season. Rowe and the offensive line executed a well-designed middle screen and Ross did the rest, bouncing outside and completing a 77-yard play before safety Anthony Harris caught him from behind at the 2-yard line. Long served as a personal convoy the last 30 yards as Ross weaved back and forth along the right sideline.
"It was a simple screen and I had a line of blockers in front of me," said Ross. "The receivers did a great job blocking upfield, too."
Two plays later, Ross plunged in from one yard for a 7-6 Maryland lead with just eight seconds left in the first quarter.
After Maryland came up with a stop and forced a punt, the Terrapins came up with another big play. Rowe, looking deep, under-threw Long and cornerback Tim Harris batted the ball - right to Diggs, who made a grab for a 39-yard gain into Virginia territory.
Two plays later, a Rowe pass was deflected by cornerback Maurice Canady and Jacobs still came up with a catch for a 17-yard gain. On an ensuing third-and-one, out of a wildcat formation, Reid took a direct snap and dashed 20-yards up the middle untouched for an apparent touchdown. A holding penalty on guard Michael Dunn negated the score and on the next play, Virginia defensive end Eli Harold sacked and stripped Rowe for a 14-yard loss that gave the Cavaliers the ball back at the 44-yard line.
The Terrapin defense got a three-and-out but after a personal foul penalty on the punt, Maryland was pinned back at the 12-yard line. A quick hitch to Long, who turned it into a 37-yard gain, got Maryland out of the hole. Two plays later, Ross burst through a big hole, stutter-stepped to the outside and gained 36 yards to the 16-yard line.
After an exchange of penalties in the red zone, Ross took a pitch that Rowe had trouble handling - the ball by now wet every play in the rain - and Ross zipped around left end for a 7-yard score.
Fullback Kenneth Goins opened up the whole left side with a thunderous block and it was really just a matter of Rowe getting ball out to Ross running wide. The Terrapins took a 14-6 lead at 6:40 before the half.
Virginia's offense came back to life, Watford hitting back-up tight end Zach Swanson for 14 yards and then dashing 11 yards on a scramble. Two plays later, Shepherd tiptoed through a hole through the middle and picked up 44 yards. After two more Shepherd runs netted eight yards, Watford rolled left and found McGee for a four-yard score at 4:33 to make it 14-13.
The Maryland defense had come up with a stop on Virginia's initial possession after the Cavaliers had picked up two first downs. Whitfield hit Shepherd for a five-yard loss and then on third down Andre Monroe nabbed Parks for a one-yard loss. Disaster struck when Will Likely couldn't handle Vozenilek's punt and Virginia's Darius Lee recovered at the 12-yard line.
The Terrapin defense came up big, stuffing two runs, including the big hit by Twine, and then forcing an incompletion. Vozenilek's 28-yard field goal gave Virginia a 3-0 lead at 8:53 of the first period.
On Maryland's first possession, Rowe hit Diggs for 12 yards and then found Amba Etta-Tawo for 13, but the drive petered out just beyond midfield. Renfro's punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
"I thought Caleb Rowe came in and did a really good job," said Edsall. "He made some mistakes but he did what he's supposed to do - he led his team to victory."
Watford hit McGee for two big third down conversions to get the Cavs moving. The first was a 16-yarder down the left sideline, and then on a third-and-10, Watford hit McGee on a crossing route good for 38 yards. Watford hit Swanson for 14 yards down to the six, and then Parks pounded five yards to the one.
But Keith Bowers and L.A. Goree stuffed Parks on second down, and then Sean Davis and Twine did the same on third down. Vozenilek came on to hit an 18-yard field goal at 1:18 for a 6-0 Virginia lead at the end of a 12-play, 79-yard drive.
"This was so big for us to bounce back after Florida State," said Darius Kilgo. "It says a lot about the guys on this team. It was a dogfight."
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