By Logan Hill
Tayon Fleet-Davis stood in the backfield, just a few yards from paydirt. He took the handoff and powered into the end zone, all but sealing the deal for the Terps in Piscataway.
On a day where Taulia Tagovailoa became the all-time leader in passing yards in a season in Maryland history, Fleet-Davis added 152 yards of his own on the ground, as Maryland’s offense helped the team get back into the win column to end the regular season.
Maryland football secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016, reaching six wins by taking down Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey, 40-16.
“This was a necessary step,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “That step from non-bowl eligible to a bowl eligible team, we want this to become the standard. Teams that go to bowls have more opportunities to develop their team, and that’s what these next practices and these next few weeks will be all about.”
It was all Maryland to start. Getting the ball to open the game, the Terps executed a nine-play, 75 yard drive to grab the game’s first points. Capped off by a Tagovailoa pass to Corey Dyches for a 25-yard touchdown, Maryland quickly led 7-0.
After forcing a stop on defense, Locksley’s squad got the ball back and produced another touchdown drive. Marching 85 yards on just six plays, Brian Cobbs also caught a touchdown pass from Tagovailoa. Cobbs caught the pass at Rutgers’ 25 and didn’t stop until he reached the goal line, diving in for his first score of the season.
“We know that we can move the ball against anybody. The biggest thing with us is just eliminating penalties,” Cobbs said. “We were able to do that, we scored on the first drive pretty quick. We were like, ‘alright we see what we can do,’ now it’s just staying disciplined, doing this each and every drive.”
However, Joseph Petrino’s extra point attempt was blocked and returned for a two point conversion, making it a 13-2 ball game.
On their ensuing drive, the Scarlet Knights seemed poised to add their first touchdown of the game. They drove all the way to Maryland’s three, but facing fourth-and-goal, Noah Vedral couldn’t complete his end zone throw to Bo Melton, and Rutgers came up scoreless after an eleven play drive.
Following a multitude of punts from both sides, Maryland pieced together another scoring drive after stopping the Scarlet Knights on fourth-and-seven at Maryland’s 36.
Keeping the drive alive twice on third down with completions to Carlos Carriere and Rakim Jarrett, Tagovailoa finished things off himself, tucking the ball and finding the end zone from ten yards away. His third total touchdown of the game put the Terps up 20-2.
Maryland’s defense would stand tall once again, giving the Terps one more drive before the half. Tagovailoa led the offense to Rutgers’ one yard line, but was sacked on third down. Maryland quickly attempted a last second field goal, but Petrino’s kick was no good, sending things to halftime.
The Scarlet Knights would score their first touchdown coming out of the locker room. Starting at their own 30, they drove 70 yards on eight plays, using both the run and the pass to move the ball. Johnny Langan capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown dive, drawing closer, 20-9.
But Maryland would answer with a touchdown of their own.
First, Fleet-Davis flipped the field with a 43 yard dash to start the drive. Two plays later, Tagovailoa found Jarrett for 16 and a first down. After a short run by Colby McDonald, Tagovailoa threw his third touchdown pass of the game, hitting Dyches for an 11-yard score.
Petrino missed another extra point, as the Terps went up by 17 at 26-9.
Rutgers struck back with another touchdown drive, this time only taking five plays. Thanks to a big return by Melton, the Scarlet Knights started off at the Terps 37. Leaning on Isaih Pacheco and Melton, Rutgers quickly advanced to the red zone, and Aaron Young finished things off, adding a three-yard touchdown to cut it to 10 at 26-16.
Maryland couldn’t move the sticks on their next crack, and the Scarlet Knights got the ball back with the chance to make it a one score game.
Facing another fourth down, Rutgers went for it and came up short, handing the ball back to Maryland near midfield.
Maryland tacked on another score to start the fourth, with Fleet-Davis rushing one in from 13 yards. Tagovailoa again moved the ball through the air, picking up 40 yards on three passes. With less than a quarter to play, Maryland led 33-16.
Rutgers would quickly get into scoring position, getting it all the way to Maryland’s one yard line. Facing fourth and goal from the one, Langan was stuffed in the backfield, keeping the Scarlet Knights off the board once again.
“We pride ourselves in our run defense,” Sam Okuayinonu said. “We just had to show it right there on that fourth down. We said, `buckle up, let’s go get it, who wants it more.’”
Rutgers failed to convert on fourth down four times in the contest, two of which came inside the Maryland five.
“We had to play with great eye focus and eye discipline,” Locksley said. “I thought we did a really good job in situational defense and our guys made the plays when we needed them to be made.”
Fleet-Davis added his second score of the game, putting the Terps up 40-16 and effectively putting things out of reach with less than seven minutes to play.
Rutgers would get one more drive, but wound up punting it away. Maryland ran out the remaining time and left Piscataway a .500 football team.
Tagovailoa finished the game 21-30 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, and also added a score on the ground. It was a solid ending to the regular season for the Terps’ quarterback, who cemented his spot as one of the most successful in the history of the program.
“We have another chance to finish out with a winning season,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s just a good feeling winning overall. As always, all glory goes to God.”
Fleet-Davis also finished the contest with 185 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns, leading Maryland’s attack on the ground.
The win secured bowl eligibility for the Terps for the first time since 2016, when they finished 6-7 and fell to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl. Entering the season with high expectations, bowl eligibility is a step in the right direction as Mike Locksley continues to build in College Park.
“I’m not done calling people,” Fleet-Davis said. “I gotta call my mom, my grandma, [we’re] just getting started.”
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