By Carlos Alfaro
COLLEGE PARK — Tonight was Javon Leake’s night, as he took the spotlight in taking the fight out of the University of Illinois’ Fighting Illini in a game that set and broke records for the Maryland Terrapins.
Leake’s four touchdowns was a team first since 2010 – his 140 rushing yards second only to the Fighting Illini’s Reggie Corbin. The 63 points the Terrapins scored also set a new high bar for Big 10 conference points, and the big win relieves Maryland of a painful shutout loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes last week.
“I was just blessed with the opportunity to come out. My O-line was doing a great job of blocking, and I just did my job and hit it home,” said Leake.
Tonight proved to be the sophomore running back’s time to shine, as he had earned his spot throughout the season and showed interim head coach Matt Canada that he made the right choice to start Leake.
“His story… he was not at the top of the list in the running back pool when the season began. You guys all know that or he’d be playing a lot more. We have a lot of talent, and someone had to be at the bottom,”
The Fighting Illini hit first and hit early after the Terrapins’ first drive ended as a dud. Senior kicker Chase McLaughlin took and made the shot from the Terrapins’ 14-yard line to put the visitors up by three.
Maryland responded with a 97-yard touchdown return by Leake and a successful kick by freshman kicker Joseph Petrino for seven points.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill lobbed a 46-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jahrvis Davenport for the Terrapins’ second touchdown of the day, and Petrino followed it up with another successful extra-point kick.
McLaughlin struck again in Illinois’ first drive in the second quarter, with a kick from Maryland’s 16-yard line, cutting the Terrapins’ lead to eight.
Leake would have to try hard to beat his nearly 100-yard return, but managed a solid effort when he went for 64 yards to score his second and the Terrapins’ third touchdown of the game.
The Fighting Illini almost got into the Maryland red zone in the next drive, but were stopped at the Maryland 21-yard line. McLaughlin stepped up and made another field goal for Illinois, now at nine.
On the next drive, Hill connected with freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones for a 14-yard touchdown, and Petrino followed up with another extra point for the last score for either team before halftime.
At this point, a McLaughlin kick to start off the quarter has become ritual, and the senior kicker made his fourth field goal of the night to nip at the Terrapins’ heels with 12 points for the Fighting Illini.
Leake went for a 25-yard touchdown play in the third quarter for his third score of the night, along with another Petrino extra point. Hill then connected with freshman tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo for the Terrapins’ seventh scoring play. Petrino topped it off with another successful kick and brought the Terrapins to 49 points, headed into the final quarter.
The Illini finally scored their first touchdown of the night as senior quarterback AJ Bush, Jr., lobbed the ball to sophomore wide receiver Dominic Stampley for a point that wasn’t a product of their kicker, although McLaughlin followed up with a successful extra point.
Stampley exposed the Terrapin defense, as Bush found him deep within Terrapin territory again minutes later for another touchdown. With another McLaughlin point, the Fighting Illini saw themselves with a faint possibility of a comeback win.
A late 54-yard touchdown by Okonkwo ended those hopes. Petrino’s kick added salt in the wound and cemented the win for the Terrapins.
Hill lauded his teammates, especially his offensive line and his running corps, for their performance tonight.
“We all feed off each other. Like Coach Canada said, we can beat you a multitude of ways. If one thing’s working, we’re going to keep going with it, and if another thing’s working, we’re going to keep going with that,” said Hill.
The road for the Terrapins only gets harder. Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State are the last four games of the season, in that order.