CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Kevin Dorsey stretched in front of and facing his teammates on a mid-November afternoon, just as the senior wide receiver and Maryland’s captains did all season.
There was only one issue. Quarterback C.J. Brown and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield were done for the season with ACL tears. Defensive end Joe Vellano was getting treatment for a severely sprained ankle.
“I look and one day, I was the only captain there,” Dorsey said. “I was like, ‘Man, we’re kind of banged up.’ That was the realization that we were really banged up.”
Even if all those injuries were not the primary characteristic of Maryland’s season-ending 45-38 loss to North Carolina, they were the most defining facet of this edition of the Terrapins (4-8, 2-6 ACC).
A dozen scholarship players were sidelined when Maryland reached the final stop in a winless second half. Included were four quarterbacks, and the Terps’ prospects dimmed a little more after each of them was lost for the season.
Maryland didn’t have an available quarterback with game experience after C.J. Brown’s ACL tear in August. It still won four of its first six with true freshman Perry Hills under center before his ACL tear and had chances to win a couple of games with some combination of Devin Burns (foot) and Caleb Rowe (knee) under center before their own season-ending ailments.
Things didn’t go as smoothly with linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback, but he improved over his month-long emergency stint. His progress came to fruition Saturday when he threw for 208 yards and a touchdown and ran for another as Maryland built a 35-21 lead despite an early two-touchdown hole.
“We could have quit when C.J. went down, we could have quit when Perry went down, we could have quit when [wideout] Marcus Leak and Devin went down in the same game as Perry,” defensive end A.J. Francis said. “We could have quit when Caleb went down. It’s just not who we are and not what we do.”
Saturday represented the final stand for a team whose season began slipping away months ago but never possessed the abject hopelessness of a year earlier. With a deeper roster and without having to turn to the defensive scout team to find a quarterback, Maryland went 2-10 in coach Randy Edsall’s first season to prompt grumbling about his long-term prospects with the program.
Even if the Terps recorded back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2004-05, there still was progress made this fall. That included Maryland’s pluckiness Saturday in its only game when bowl eligibility was not a possibility, however remote.
“It meant something,” Edsall said. “When it was 14-0, people watching this game said ‘Maryland’s done. They’ll quit. What do they have left to play for?’ But that’s not who they are. That’s not what this program stands for and represents.”
It is a crucial part of the foundation Edsall hopes can spur further growth entering his third year. There will be gaps to fill in: Five starters from a solid front seven on defense graduate, and there will be questions about a thin offensive line from now until September.
But there are promising signs as well. Maryland adapted quickly to defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 system, and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will have no shortage of quarterbacks with at least some experience.
The Terps also have a star to build around in Stefon Diggs, who had 848 receiving yards (seventh on the school’s single-season list) and 1,896 all-purpose yards (second in school history) as a freshman.
“The defense is in good hands, and Locks and those guys can obviously recruit,” Francis said. “You’ve got Diggs, you’ve got [junior college wideout] Deon Long coming in. There’s going to be a lot of talent here.”