By Carlos Alfaro
COLLEGE PARK — Maryland football has not had a good year.
The Terrapins’ loss to the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday is a footnote in a tumultuous period for the program and the school as a whole. The loss against a dominant Spartans team came in a week that saw the Terrapins’ former head coach DJ Durkin reinstated for a day and then fired after prompt and widespread backlash.
Interim head coach Matt Canada sought to focus on the game, acknowledging the week’s events vaguely.
“I think we’ve done a really good job with the program of taking it day-by-day; that’s what we’ve said the whole time,” said Canada. “This week has been a challenging week, that’s a fact…we came in, we worked every day, kids played hard every day. Tuesday, things happened, Wednesday, things happened. Thursday morning, 7:45, we’re in there meeting, we’re in there working,”
Terrapin players were not made available for comment after the game.
A 79-yard first-quarter drive saw the Spartans’ sophomore running back Connor Heyward rush for 18 yards to the end zone, demonstrating the visiting team’s ability to pierce the Terrapins’ porous defense.
Sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin made the subsequent extra point, and scored three points of his own after a good field goal from fourth down and the 33-yard line.
The Spartans’ defense gave the Terrapins a slap back to reality as Michigan State held the Maryland team to only eight total yards in the first quarter, compared to their own 107.
“We worked really hard prepping for that offense because it’s different; it’s a little bit like playing an option football team to some respects so you have to make sure your gap is sound and your perimeter is sound and you can’t mess up because they’ll go the distance. They’ve shown that,” said Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio.
Numbers were not on the Terrapins’ side in the first quarter at all: 0-for-3 on third-down conversions, two recovered fumbles and negative eight rushing yards.
The Terrapins’ luck changed in the second quarter after freshman kicker Joseph Petrino made a field goal from the 23-yard line on fourth down to finally put them on the board.
Maryland went into halftime trailing by seven points, a one-touchdown game against a Spartans team reluctant to let them advance. If the second quarter saw the Terrapins barely adapt to the Spartans for a small three-point gain, the third showed that the Spartans still had this game under control.
“We got off to a great start with three straight three-and-outs and were able to keep them out of the red zone. Whenever we’re able to do that early and continue to keep the momentum throughout the rest of the game, that helps us,” said senior Spartans safety Khari Willis.
Redshirt freshman Max Rosenthal recovered a Heyward fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter, and Coghlin followed up with a successful extra point, extending the lead to 17-3, late in the third quarter.
A 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter would be a situation ripe for a comeback, but Heyward ensured that the Terrapins would not get a chance to do so.
In one of the Terrapins’ clearest scoring opportunities, Spartans redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi was intercepted by senior defensive lineman Byron Cowart at the 13-yard line, but Cowart fumbled and gave the Spartans a touchback after the fumble was recovered by the sophomore tight end Matt Dotson.
On the next play, Heyward burned the entire Maryland team with an 80-yard rushing touchdown, followed by a Coghlin kick, to extend the Spartans’ lead to 21 points.
The following Terrapin drives weren’t enough for a scoring play, and the loss knocks them down to a 5-4 overall record and 3-3 in Big Ten play.
“I got to coach better; that’s where we start. They are very good; they’re a really good football team. But we didn’t play our best, so we got to figure out how to coach better and play our best football, and if we don’t play our best football, we got to live with that,” said Canada.