They lined up less than a half-hour before kickoff, 17 veteran Maryland football players who would soon play their final game at Byrd Stadium.
They stood near a sun-splashed sideline, their families greeting them as their names were called. It was a time for recalling good memories and fun times, however intermittent they were over the last four or five years.
One thing appeared likely and proved painfully real in the ensuing hours Saturday: No. 10 Florida State was not about to allow the Terrapins’ senior class to craft a happy ending in their last home game.
The Seminoles scored touchdowns on their first two possessions en route to a 41-14 victory, securing the ACC’s Atlantic Division title while denying Maryland any chance of bowl eligibility this season.
In truth, that was apparent for some time for the Terps (4-7, 2-5 ACC), who lost their fifth straight and mustered only 170 yards of total offense against the Seminoles (10-1, 7-1). Maryland reached the middle of the season at 4-2, but understandably struggled after season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Perry Hills, Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe.
“You never know what the future holds,” said linebacker Kenneth Tate, who came the first Maryland player since Shawne Merriman in 2002 to have three sacks in a game. “Every team is on their high horse at one point in time and everything can be taken away at once. For us, we had a downslide but we just have to keep working at it every day.”
The days remaining in this season, however, are down to a final week.
It wasn’t difficult to envision how this particular day would unfold. Florida State entered with the nation’s No. 1 total defense and a ferocious set of defensive ends. Maryland ranked last in the country in total offense, the need to draft linebacker Shawn Petty this month to serve as the No. 5 quarterback out of necessity exemplifying the Terps’ offensive limitations.
Yet much as it did a week ago, Maryland undermined its already minimal chances against a superior foe with early turnovers.
After Florida State methodically marched for a touchdown on its opening drive, freshman Levern Jacobs fumbled on his first career kickoff return. Four seconds later, E.J. Manuel found Nick O’Leary in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The teams exchanged punts, with Florida State’s three-and-out a gleam of hope. Yet Petty fumbled it away on Maryland’s next snap at the Terps 32, and the Seminoles managed a field goal a few minutes later.
“I said it earlier in the week that we’d have to play a perfect game in order to win and we go down 7-0 and then we fumble the ball and the next thing you know it’s 14 and then we fumble the ball again and it’s 17,” coach Randy Edsall said. “To put yourself in that hole, it’s very tough to come back from.”
From there, only a few things were in doubt: Whether Maryland could avoid its first home shutout since 1997 and just how severe a pummeling Florida State chose to inflict.
The Terps put the first question to rest right after halftime when it not only crossed midfield for the first time, but also reached the end zone. Petty scrambled on a fourth down, eventually finding Kevin Dorsey open for a 33-yard score. In the final minute, Dorsey caught a 42-yard score as well, a strong showing for a senior who struggled at times this season.
Those were two of the rare welcome developments for an offense held to its lowest total yardage since a 91-yard day against N.C. State in 2004.
For its part, Florida State pulled Manuel with less than 12 minutes remaining and was content to run the clock as much as possible in the fourth quarter. Manuel finished 17 of 23 for 144 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Seminoles, who clinched a place in the Dec. 1 ACC title game for the second time in three years.
Maryland, meanwhile, will sit at home during the holidays for the second straight year and third time in four years. Maryland’s seniors won’t warmly recall another season without a bowl bid or the lopsided loss that assured it, but they won’t depart feeling entirely hollow.
“It’s two different things, really,” senior defensive end Joe Vellano said. “The careers of the seniors are bigger than one game —- a lot of working out, a lot of time with them all offseason, a lot of guys you’ll be friends with a long time. It’s a real good group.”
—- Patrick Stevens