Maryland lost its starting quarterback late in the first half Saturday.
It lost its first conference game a bit later – but not before the Terrapins’ most bizarre day of the season.
Backup quarterbacks Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe both had stirring turns attempting to rally Maryland, only for Brad Craddock’s 33-yard field goal attempt to clank off the left upright as N.C. State escaped Byrd Stadium with a 20-18 victory.
“It’s tough,” defensive lineman Joe Vellano said. “A little wind, [if] he kicked it a little to the right six inches, it would have fell in. It’s tough, it really is. I’d rather have seen it go the other way, obviously.”
Maryland (4-3, 2-1 ACC) would have liked a lot to go differently. Tailback Wes Brown lost a fumble while the Terps attempted to run out the clock, a miscue that in the long run slightly extended the game. A defense with another stout effort gave up three medium-range passes at the wrong time.
And just before halftime, Perry Hills suffered a left knee injury, depriving a Maryland bunch already thin at quarterback of its season-long starter. He was hurt N.C. State linebacker Rickey Dowdy hit him when his left leg was awkwardly planted on an interception return.
Television replays showed Hills sobbing in agony as he was carted off.
“We’ll wait to see what the MRI tells us with that,” coach Randy Edsall said. “It doesn’t look good.”
The remaining options were, at best, untested. Burns arrived at Maryland as a quarterback, switched to wide receiver last year and volunteered to move back when junior C.J. Brown was lost for the season in August with a knee injury of his own. Burns’ career snaps at quarterback before Saturday: Three.
That was more than Rowe, a true freshman who was on track to redshirt as Hills navigated the perils of learning on the job over a half-dozen games.
Both played their part in an improbable comeback.
Maryland managed just three points in the first half, but Burns invigorated an offense short on effective rushing all season after getting thrust in for the final possession of the second quarter.
“Everybody came up to me at halftime, said just take advantage of the opportunity, be ready to go,” Burns said. “That settled me down some, so I was ready to go after that point.”
Maryland capped its first possession of the second half with a Brown touchdown drive. Burns, who would rush for 50 yards, scored on a 2-yard bootleg to close the Terps within 17-15 on their next drive. And Craddock, who missed an extra point and two field goals, connected from 48 yards to give Maryland an 18-17 edge.
“Probably the worst thing that happened to us was that we knocked the quarterback out of the game,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said.
Maryland’s third quarterback nearly did some damage, too.
After the Wolfpack (5-2, 2-1) coaxed a 10-play field goal drive out of its struggling offense, Edsall subbed Rowe in. It was Maryland’s plan; if Hills got hurt and the Terps faced a two-minute drill, Rowe would be the Terps’ quarterback.
It took three plays to go from the Maryland 25 to inside the N.C. State 15, an efficient march to stun the Wolfpack. The Terps centered the ball, called timeout and called on Craddock to cap a drive teammate A.J. Francis couldn’t watch.
“I was listening for cheers and hoping that everything went well,” Francis said. “I heard cheer after cheer after cheer and then that last play I just kept my head down and sent a prayer up.”
And when the goalpost got in the way?
“I didn’t even know it hit the upright until I got in the locker room because I just heard my teammates screaming profanities,” Francis said.
There was reason for the Terps to curse their fate. For so much of the season, they have ground out tight victories. They nearly did again, with Craddock’s attempt nearly providing another triumph.
“I actually thought I hit it pretty well and then afterwards you don’t really think anything,” Craddock said.
After a setback-filled Saturday, he might not be the only Terp at a loss when looking back at the wild defeat.