PHILADELPHIA | Much of the second half of Maryland’s visit to Temple looked like any number of the Terrapins’ games from a year ago.
The eventual outcomes Saturday wasn’t quite so familiar.
Maryland fended off Temple 36-27 at Lincoln Financial Field, using a late touchdown drive to match its victory total from its entire 2011 season.
The Terps held a 26-3 halftime lead and saw it cut to 29-27 before Justus Pickett’s 7-yard touchdown run with 2:51 remaining. Demetrius Hartsfield clinched the victory moments later with an interception.
“I didn’t sense any panic settle in on the sideline,” coach Randy Edsall said. “I think our kids were confident the whole way. They believed. They didn’t think anything in their mind anything was going to happen besides us winning the ballgame.”
That was an infrequent occurrence a year ago, when Maryland frittered away double-digit leads after halftime against Clemson and N.C. State. It easily could have reprised such follies after losing four fumbles, all by true freshmen in their second career games.
Stefon Diggs muffed a point to gift Temple with possession inside the Maryland 15 in the middle of the fourth quarter, only for the Terps to make a stop and A.J. Francis to block a field goal. Tailback Wes Brown then lost his second fumble of the game to ignite a Temple scoring drive.
With a margin of only a safety, the Terps didn’t allow thoughts of past misery to creep to deeply into their minds. It would have been easy; in last year’s finale, Maryland wasted a 27-point lead in the second half in what became a 56-41 loss to N.C. State.
“You don’t harp on it,” Hartsfield said. “You remember it. I know for me, one of the biggest things I always think is we have to finish. Last year, we didn’t do it as much. We’re finishing games. We’re playing 60 minutes. We know we have to play 60 minutes.”
Maryland’s first two games are evidence of that. Little from the opening victories suggests there will be many stress-free moments this season. The Terps didn’t entirely lock up either triumph until the final moments when there were opportunities to wrap up a victory much earlier.
Yet there was also signs of growth from Maryland’s youth. Quarterback Perry Hills, a week removed from a three-interception debut, threw two touchdowns and rushed for another. Kicker Brad Craddock made a pair of field goals, after missing his first career attempt against William & Mary.
Then there were the in-game responses. Diggs’ next touch after the fumbled punt was a 38-yard reception on a third down during what became the game-sealing drive.
“That muff, that got to me a little bit and I felt as if I had to make up for it somewhere,” Diggs said. “My next opportunity, I basically did my job. My job is to catch the ball, so that’s what I did and good things happen.”
Indeed, plenty went right early on as Maryland built an imposing lead against a team it crumbled against in a 38-7 loss less than a year earlier. The Terps’ defense didn’t yield a touchdown until the third quarter, surrendering just 34 yards in the first half.
That was before Maryland’s three-turnover spurt after the break. Yet somehow, it is 2-0 after committing four turnovers in both of its games to date.
More to the point, the Terps are 2-0. They won on the road for the first time since November 2010. And despite a plethora of inexperience, they will have a chance at their first 3-0 start since 2001 when Connecticut visits College Park next week.
“There’s plenty of things to work on, that’s for sure,” Edsall said. “We’ll do that. I thought we made strides from Week 1 to Week 2. I think we’ll be making strides each and every week. …
“Games like this are just going to make this team that much better.”
—- Patrick Stevens