On homecoming part 2, Rutgers faced Maryland in a blackout doubleheader at High Point Solutions Stadium that had been previously scheduled for Yankee Stadium. Rutgers wrestling team defeated the Terrapins 27-9 in the first act. The gridiron Knights were dealt a blow before kickoff as electric Janarion Grant was ruled out with the same ankle injury that has plagued him for over a year now. Rutgers football weathered the storm and recorded a victory to even the Big Ten series with Maryland at two games apiece in both teams’ 4th season in the conference.
Rutgers received the opening kickoff and drove it all the way down to the Maryland 37, with all yards on the ground, pounding the Terps up the middle before the drive stalled. After three plays resulted in only a single yard, Andrew Harte came on for a long 54 yard field goal try from the right hashmark that had the distance but was wide right.
After trading punts, Maryland had a big play from Taivon Jacobs and turned it into a 7-0 lead. Rutgers returned the favor as Giovanni Rescigno found Jerome Washington for a big 35 yard pass play, his first completion of the contest as the first quarter clock ran out. Rutgers punched it in on an option run by Rescigno to tie it up.
Now 7-7, Maryland dodged a bullet as a pass was nearly intercepted or so it appeared by Ross Douglas. After a review, officials determined the play to have actually been a fumble as quarterback Max Bortenschlager was hit by Elorm Lumor as he threw. Since no Rutgers player picked it up as whistles blew for a clear recovery, the ball remained with Maryland. On the ensuing third down Bortenschlager was hit again and looked a little banged up coming off the field. With the resulting good field position, Harte capitalized with a 50 yard field goal, the longest kick conversion by an RU kicker since 2012. Rutgers now led 10-7.
It appeared with their QB hurt, Maryland needed to abandon the option run so they threw more drop back passes. It backfired as Bortenschlager was hit yet again and Kiy Hester caught the ball in stride at full speed the other way for a pick six. Rutgers had all the momentum and now led 17-7 to a now raucous crowd.
Maryland stemmed the tide with some chunk plays, to push the ball to the Red zone with less than three minutes to go in the first half. On third and 12, the Terrapins did the smart thing and threw a prayer down the sideline resulting in a pass interference call. The ball appeared uncatchable landing out of the end zone and Wharton had safety help but the call allowed Maryland to punch in a touchdown on the ensuing play with 1:13 left to go in the half to make it 17-14. Heading to intermission, or so we thought, after a huge run by Gio, Rutgers got the ball to the Maryland 45 but a pass deep inside the red zone was dropped by Jerome Washington and an ensuing Hail Mary was picked by Maryland to end the half. Rutgers led 17-14 but felt like it could have been a lot more. At halftime, Rutgers had 154 yards on the ground.
Maryland received the second half kickoff. After a strange holding call against Sebastian Joseph on a Maryland run, the Terps again dodged a huge bullet as a pass should have been intercepted as both Damon Hayes and K.J. Gray came flying in so fast, the ball and both player’s heads all hit one another then all three fell to the turf. On the ensuing third down and one, Maryland broke a 54 yard run into the red zone. They scored a touchdown after a few near stops by the RU defense.
Now trailing 21-17, Raheem Blackshear ran the kick up to the 48 yard line. Disorganized Rutgers had to take a delay of game on their first offensive play of the second half though Ryan Anderson did end up pinning the Terrapins at their own two yard line on a nice play by Larry Stevens. Maryland got one first down, but was forced to punt. The kick was shanked but bounced off Isaiah Wharton blocking on the outside. A wide open Maryland receiver Jacobs dropped a bomb in the end zone. Maryland decided to for it on a 4th and one and their tight end jumped for what was an obvious false start, but the officials called Rutgers for being offside sending the stadium into a frenzy of boos. Then on the following third down, Bortenschlager was in trouble and threw the ball at least 15 yards away from the nearest receiver out of bounds. The refs picked up the intentional grounding flag to a chorus of even more boos and Maryland was able to convert a field goal to extend their lead to 24-17. The crowd and Chris Ash expressed frustration until the ensuing kickoff.
A solid return by Blackshear and one Rutgers conversion was followed by a pass off Gio’s backfoot that was overthrown. Had he stepped into his throw, a wide open Bo Melton who had blown the top of the defense would have waltzed in the endzone. Rutgers did bounce back with three more first downs on the drive to keep it moving.
So as the 4th quarter began, Rutgers trailed 24-17 with a 3rd down and three at the Terrpain 10 yard line. The quick break was good for Rutgers as Robert Martin broke one arm tackle and walked into the end zone for his 18th career rushing touchdown. The ensuing extra point and cannon blast tied the game at 24-24 with a full quarter to play.
The enthusiastic crowd fueled the defense to a huge third down stop where C.J. Onyechi got a hold of Bortenschlager on a scramble and luckily Trevor Morris delivered a strong enough blow to halt the big QB’s momentum. Rutgers rode Gus Edwards to his first 100 yard game of the year and the RU band’s pep, powering to the Maryland 23 setting up a crucial third and three. A suicide blitz was read perfectly by Rescigno and he dumped it off to Edwards who dodged one defender and took the reception into the end zone. The extra point put the Knights up 31-24 exactly halfway through the 4th as 7:30 showed on the game clock.
The final straw being the hit he took on the previous drive, Maryland replaced Bortenschlager with with their 5th string quarterback Ryan Brand. Starter Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill are already on the mend so Coach D.J. Durkin opted for Brand over Caleb Henderson, a transfer from North Carolina, who had been listed on the two-deep. The move seemed to make sense as Brand is undersized but quick and moved the ball through his playmakers to midfield. His lack of experienced showed though as Maryland took a delay of game penalty with 3:56 remaining. The third and ten play was complete to D.J. Moore with Rutgers in way too soft of coverage allowing an 11 yard gain and first down conversion.
So with two minutes remaining, Maryland had a 4th down and three at the 31 yard line. A corner blitz was read perfectly by Brand who hit D.J. Moore again inches past the yardsticks. The ensuing play resulted in a dropped pass by Kiy Hester in the end zone as the wide receiver made a nice play to avoid catastrophe on what would have been Hester’s second interception of the day. Brand then completed another third down pass to Moore setting up a game tying 15 yard TD to Jacobs BUT Elorm Lumor who had a solid game was obviously held by the left tackle wiping out the score.
The next series of plays were gut wrenching as a first down pass was broken up by a huge hit by Hester then Harris nearly intercepted a second down pass. Rutgers called timeout just before a 3rd and 20 from the 25 that Maryland didn’t hear with all the noise in the stadium. A screen pass might have been big and instead the third down was complete to D.J. Moore for 10 more yards. So a 4th and 10 from the 15 meant the game. A deep pass down the left side to Moore yet again not allowing time for safety help was dropped with minor contact by the receiver and Isaiah Wharton who may have tipped the ball. Rescigno took three kneeldowns and time expired for Rutgers third win in their last four Big Ten games!!!!!!!
What a game, I was literally shaking as I typed through the plays on Maryland’s final drive. Since both schools joined the Big Ten in 2014, three of the four football contests have been classics. Both teams appear dead even on the field as they stand 4-5 on the year with just three* games left to play. While Maryland racked up a lot of yardage, defense did just enough to stymie D.J. Moore who never got it going until the final drive and Ty Johnson, arguably the second best running back in the Big Ten. Special teams was up (huge 50 yard field goal) and down but luckily the rest of the team was able to pick them up after the unlucky bounce hit Wharton on a poor Maryland punt setting up one of the Terp scores.
It was great to see this team regroup after a war in the trenches against Michigan as they imposed their will on the offensive line despite the media saying Rutgers should attack a porous Maryland secondary. Some will argue no matter what happens the rest of the way, four wins including three in the Big Ten should be considered a successful season on the banks.
Next week is a huge task playing at #7 Penn State, then the Knights are at Indiana and host #24 Michigan State to conclude the 2017 season.
Look for more coverage of this barn burner right here at onthebanks.com.