PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Shortly after securing their first bowl berth since 2016, Maryland players and coaches gathered in the end zone with a massive video screen at SHI Stadium behind them and took a team photograph with the score of their 40-16 win over Rutgers showing.
Coach Michael Locksley called it a Christmas Card photo players could send in less than a month. It was more than that. It was a sign Maryland (6-6, 3-6 ) is turning the corner in the Big Ten Conference.
“I came here to build a program that our former players and all of our fans could be really, really proud of,” said Locksley, who was hired for the 2019 season. “This is just one step. We talked about taking the next step and that’s being bowl eligible now. The next step for us is to build upon what we’ve established, the culture, the identity. We have young players that I think give us a bright future.”
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is basis of that future. He threw three touchdowns, ran for another and grabbed the school’s single-season record for passing yards in the biggest game of the year for both teams.
“It means so much to get to a bowl game as a team,” Tagovailoa said. “We wanted to be the team that did it, not next year’s team. We wanted to be the team that started that.”
Maryland was certainly deserving of its in the one-side won over Rutgers (5-7, 2-7) that sent the Scarlet Knights to their 19th straight loss at home against a Big Ten opponent.
The setback was obviously a disappointment for Rutgers’ fans, but coach Greg Schiano said the team at least was playing a meaningful game in November. That has not been the case between 2016-19. Rutgers last played in a bowl game in 2014.
“It’s important that we all recognize that we are growing we are building,” said Schiano, whose eight wins over the past two seasons are one less than the team had between 2016-19.
Halfback Tayon Fleet-Davis also had a big-day with a bowl-bid on the line, rushing for a career-best 152 yards and two touchdowns as the Terps had 575 yards in total offense. Fleet-Davis scored on runs of 13 and 2 yards in the fourth quarter.
“You know, I’ve been here since 2017, I’m a fifth year senior so so this is my first time bowling and I’m still still in shock,” Fleet-Davis said. “I just can’t believe it. I’m ready for it and I can’t wait to experience, and I’m also excited that my team get experience this, too, especially the young guys.”
Tagovailoa had touchdown passes of 25 and 11 yards to Corey Dyches and 38 yards to Brian Cobbs in getting the Terps bowl eligible. He also tallied on a 10-yard run as Maryland opened a 20-2 halftime lead and never looked back.
Tagovailoa finished 21 of 30 for 312 yards. The yardage gave him 3,595 yards, breaking the Terps’ single-season record of 3,499 set by Scott Milanovich in 1993.
After taking the final snap, Tagovailoa chest bumped with receiver Rakim Jarrett, who had seven catches for 111 yards as the Terps ended a three-game losing streak.
The Scarlet Knights got second-half touchdown runs of 1 yard from Johnny Langan and 3 yards from Aaron Young.. Kessawn Abraham returned a blocked PAT attempt 85 yards for the other two points. Maryland’s defense stopped Rutgers twice on downs inside its 3-yard line, once in each half.
Maryland: After opening the the season with four straight wins, Maryland finally sealed its bowl berth. Tagovailoa was outstanding and he will be an attraction at any bowl game.
Rutgers: With everything on the line, Rutgers came up way short. They missed inside linebacker and leading tackler Olakunle Fatukasi (leg) and the offense showed little against a Maryland defense that gave up 130 points in its losing streak.
Maryland: The Terps will wait until next Sunday to find out what bowl has selected them.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights open at Boston College next season, unless they somehow get a bowl berth with a losing record.
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