There are no artistry points in football, a reality Maryland was no doubt grateful for Saturday.
There was another reason for the Terrapins to give thanks. After nearly three hours of generally unsightly offense, injury-depleted Maryland departed Byrd Stadium with a 7-6 victory over William & Mary.
It is the sort of result that rarely results in hosannas. And, really, there couldn’t help but be an overbearing sense of mutually assured unsightliness as the Terps committed four turnovers and the Tribe turned to its backup quarterback midway through the second quarter after starter Brent Caprio left with a shoulder injury.
It was also an ultimately pleasant development for a program with little to savor over the last 20 months. Saturday marked the end of a seven-game losing streak,
“The biggest thing that I believe the team is going to take out of this is just the fact is it’s a win,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “We haven’t won since last [October]. It’s just a good feeling to win. Even though it’s not the way you want to win, it’s still a win.”
There was no certainty about the outcome until the final 10 minutes. It took that long for Maryland to finally reach the end zone, tailback Justus Pickett’s six-yard dart and freshman Brad Craddock’s extra point the lone scoring for Maryland.
It was one of only two Maryland drives to last beyond five plays. Between three Perry Hills interceptions and an Albert Reid lost fumble, it came as little surprise the Terps required a dozen true freshmen to survive the game.
“I don’t think you ever diminish anything when you win,” coach Randy Edsall said. “There’s plenty of things we can do to get better and we will, but I think all these young kids have grown up and they’ll be better as we continue to go.”
Maryland (and Hills especially) will need to in a hurry.
Hills, only the third true freshman quarterback to start for Maryland, was 16 of 24 for 145 yards in his debut, sticking mostly to short- and medium-length passes as the Terps tried to keep things manageable.
He also was intercepted three times, looking very much like a quarterback who ascended to a starting job less than three weeks ago.
“Whenever I was out there and wasn’t really overwhelmed, wasn’t nervous,” said Hills, who became the starter after C.J. Brown tore a ligament in his right knee. “Just a couple silly mistakes I shouldn’t have made. That won’t happen again.”
The scuffling offense unnerved some in the crowd of 31,321, the smallest for a Maryland season opener since 1997. A smattering of boos fell down on the Terps as halftime arrived, and it seemed possible Maryland would follow up a 2-10 season with an even more ignominious development.
Instead, the Terps stitched together one strong drive in the fourth quarter, finally scoring two plays after senior Kevin Dorsey converted a third-down reception after shaking a would-be tackler and gaining 22 yards thanks to a Bennett Fulper block.
“It was definitely a relief,” Dorsey said. “It’s the kind of relief where you’re saying to yourself ‘About time.’ At the same time, it’s something we know we’re capable of doing.”
Whatever growth occurs on offense will come with most of the same guys who struggled to cobble 236 yards against a team from the former Division I-AA. Of the 12 scholarship players out for the opener because of injury, only two are offensive players who could return this season (tailback Brandon Ross and guard Josh Cary).
Reinforcements should eventually arrive for a defense that acquitted itself well in its first game in new coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 system. It gave up a pair of field goals off turnovers, never allowed the Tribe to collect more than 39 yards on a possession and generally appeared vastly better than the sieve-like unit of a year ago.
Yes, it was against a William & Mary team coming off a 5-6 season. And yes, it was an opponent against whom Maryland would typically enjoy a massive scholarship advantage.
But it ended a whole lot better than nearly all of the Terps’ games from a year ago. For this particular afternoon it was plenty, no matter how tempting it was not to actually watch the proceedings.
“It’s basically a monkey-off-your-back feeling,” Hartsfield said. “You like that feeling of winning again. You just want to build upon that next week. We want to be 2-0.”