Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Taulia Tagovailoa guides Maryland football past Virginia Tech, 54-10, first bowl victory since 2010

Leading by 17 points just over halfway into the third quarter and facing a fourth-and-four, Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back to pass. He completed a dart to Darryl Jones, who turned upfield and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.

The touchdown throw was the 26th and final strike of the season for Tagovailoa, who tied Maryland’s all time record for touchdown passes in a season set by Scott Milanovich in 1993.

It was also the cherry on top of another sound performance from Tagovailoa, as the junior went 20-24 for 265 yards and two touchdowns in Maryland football’s seventh and final win of the season.

In their first bowl appearance since 2016, the Terps rode another standout performance from their quarterback en route to a 54-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

“I hope it quiets some of the critics and maybe he’ll get a little bit of [the] respect that I think he deserves as a quarterback,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “I feel like we’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if not the country.”

While Tagovailoa dominated the day, Tarheeb Still started things off for the Terps.

After Maryland’s defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, Still trotted back to return the first punt of the game. Backtracking to his own eight, he fielded the kick and ran untouched straight up the middle, reaching paydirt 92 yards later. 

“I just got the ball, my guys, they blocked it out real good for me, so, I would’ve been a fool not to return it,” Still said. “They did their part so I just had to do mine.”

Before the offense had even seen the field, Maryland led 7-0.

From there, things lulled. The two sides traded a pair of punts as both offenses attempted to settle into the contest.

Facing the prospects of their fourth straight punt to open the game, Hokies interim head coach J.C. Price dialed up a fake punt attempt that picked up just enough to keep the drive alive. Moments later, Connor Blumrick uncorked a deep ball for Jaden Payoute, who hauled in the pass 42 yards later despite pass interference.

The Hokies would eventually stall out, but not without points. John Parker Romo connected from 36 yards away, bringing Virginia Tech closer at 7-3.

Finally, Maryland’s offense woke up.

Following the Hokies’ first score of the game, it took just one play to find the end zone. With Darryl Jones running a deep corner route, Tagovailoa unloaded a strike. Jones caught it in stride and finished things off on the other side of the goal line. In just seconds, Maryland led 14-3.

Virginia Tech was forced to punt once again after running just three plays, giving Maryland another chance on offense just moments after tacking seven onto their lead.

Tagovailoa and company picked up right where they left off.

While the Hokies struggled to get anything going offensively, Maryland matched its first offensive touchdown of the game with another. Driving 60 yards on just five plays — 49 of which coming from Tagovailoa’s right arm — Antwain Littleton II trudged in from four yards out. Just over midway through the second quarter, Maryland led 21-3.

After watching three touchdowns get scored by the Terps, Virginia Tech went on a drive of its own.

Starting off at their own 25, the Hokies marched 75 yards on 12 plays, eating up 5:11 of game time. Using his legs throughout much of the first half, Blumrick kept the ball and rumbled in from three yards away. With just over a minute until halftime, Virginia Tech cut Maryland’s lead to 21-10.

The Terps drove past midfield with their final possession of the first half, getting into position for a 44-yard attempt from Joseph Petrino before time expired. He nailed the kick as the clock hit zero, giving Maryland a 24-10 lead at the half.

“We were just trying to get whatever we could,” Tagovailoa said. “We know we have a good kicker in Petrino. I think the whole drive was just everyone doing their job.”

Coming out of the locker room, Maryland marched deep into Hokies’ territory once again. Starting at their own 25, the Terps drove 63 yards to the Virginia Tech 12-yard line, but ultimately stalled out. Petrino added his second field goal of the game, stretching their lead to 27-10.

The Terps’ second-half scoring didn’t end there, as Locksley’s squad added more points on its next possession. Tagovailoa checked it down to Jones, who took it the rest of the way for his second touchdown of the game to put Maryland ahead 34-10.

“This is my first time being here, first time scoring, first time [in a] bowl game,” Jones said. “I’ll definitely remember this. I’ll tell this story for I don’t know how many years, but it’s definitely special.”

Roman Hemby would join the scoring party after Maryland’s defense forced a four-and-out. The freshman running back capped off a eight-play, 59 yard drive with a two-yard touchdown, ballooning the lead to 41-10.

Two plays later, Maryland scored again.

With Virginia Tech facing second-and-12 from their own 23, Nick Cross came off of the edge and crushed Blumrick, forcing a fumble in the process. Greg Rose scooped the ball up at the 11 and dove across the goal line for a touchdown of his own, putting the Terps up 47-10.

The Hokies couldn’t produce anything of value as things headed towards a close, and Reece Udinski entered the game to close things out at quarterback for Maryland. After eating up most of the remaining time, Colby McDonald rushed up the right side and reached the end zone from 20 yards away, to cap off an explosive performance for Locksley’s offense.

Wednesday’s bowl win was encapsulation of the heights that Locksley has preached about reaching all season. After opening the year 4-0, Maryland survived a pair of three-game losing streaks to finish 6-6 and secure bowl eligibility. 

“I just think it starts with our leader,” Tagovailoa said. “The head man, coach [Locksley], the way he pushes us, the way he does things around the building, he works hard. A lot of sleepless nights for him, just trying to make sure everything is going good.”

Playing on a national stage, the Terps dominated from start to finish, putting together their best performance of 2021 to finish the season with a winning record.

“These guys have really bought in to what you have to do to have winning football,” Locksley said. “The culture, the way you have to work, the habits and behaviors you [have] to create. This season was a huge step for our program, but I still believe, again, that the best is ahead.”