A sliver of Connecticut fans waited three hours Saturday to celebrate a victory over the Huskies’ former coach.
With a last-minute stop of a frazzled Maryland offense, they were afforded the opportunity to serenade the man who oversaw the Huskies’ program for a dozen years.
It made for a sobering day for the Terrapins’ Randy Edsall and an even more difficult afternoon for his freshman quarterback as Maryland dropped a 24-21 decision before 35,491 at Byrd Stadium.
The Terrapins never led as they absorbed their first loss of the season. Freshman quarterback Perry Hills, who helped Maryland lock up victories with fourth-quarter scoring drives in the first two weeks of the season, couldn’t replicate the feat against Connecticut (2-1).
“He said it’s a team sport and you can’t put it on yourself,” Hills said of Edsall’s message to him. “It’s not on one person. But I don’t take any loss good. I hate losing. I’m not ever going to accept losing. I just need to put this behind me and learn from it.”
There’s plenty of learning to be done in College Park, but that’s little surprise. The Terps (2-1) remain an erratic bunch offensively, a byproduct of their starting quarterback, most electrifying wideout and most efficient tailback all being less than a month into their careers.
It was a different day for Edsall, too. He recruited much of the Connecticut roster before he departed for Maryland early last season. And while Edsall insisted he treated this game like it was any other, he choked up after the game while reflecting on the encounter with the Huskies.
“I have emotions,” Edsall said. “I don’t think you’re human if you don’t have emotions. It was just good to see some of those guys and wish them well.”
He won’t revisit that experience until next September when Maryland treks to New England to face the Huskies in Edsall Bowl II. Hills, for his part, can put his latest experiences to work next week.
Hills was 10-for-24 for 109 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed an interception on his first pass of the day, lost a fumble and was sacked six times.
The struggles aside, he and the Terps still had a chance to pull off a comeback in the closing minutes. But in a sign of two-minute drill foibles that carried over from practice, the Terps squandered 25 seconds after Hills was stopped for a three-yard loss and followed it up with an incompletion and a four-yard loss on a pass to Kevin Dorsey.
Faced with a fourth down at the Connecticut 39 —- well out of field goal range after the two losses —- Hills tossed an incompletion to Kerry Boykins to end Maryland’s chances of its first 3-0 start since 2001.
“It was difficult,” right tackle Justin Gilbert said. “This was a really big pressure team and we kind of put it on ourselves as an o-line to start picking things up. We didn’t pick it up in the beginning and it showed there at the end.”
It was an imperfect day for Maryland, which survived its share of miscues in its first two games but couldn’t quite do so against Connecticut.
Nick Williams’ 58-yard punt return for a touchdown gave Connecticut a lead it wouldn’t surrender. The Terps allowed only 223 total yards and a mere 75 yards in the second half. The Huskies had only four first downs after the break —- all on their only touchdown drive of the second half.
Maryland’s two turnovers represented a reduction over the first two weeks. They also proved costly, with the interception allowing Connecticut to play a field position game before its punt return and handing the Huskies a field goal in the third quarter.
It made for a difficult day for the Terps. And Edsall. And maybe most of all for Hills, who was left to nurse a loss for the first time in his college career.
“I love Perry Hills,” Edsall said. “I just told that to him. I told him ‘This ain’t all on him.’ That guy’s in a tough situation and he’s hurting. He’s hurting emotionally and everything because he’s putting too much on himself. Yeah, he didn’t play as well as he thought he could and he’d be the first to tell you. But we have tremendous confidence in him and he’ll get better.”
—- Patrick Stevens