- The Washington Times
Wednesday, December 29, 2021

NEW YORK - In a place that’s no stranger to long drives and big plays, Maryland did its best impersonation of the Bronx Bombers and lit up the Yankee Stadium scoreboard.

Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, and receiver Darryl Jones had a career day with 111 yards and two touchdowns, as Maryland set a New Era Pinstripe Bowl scoring record in a 54-10 rout of Virginia Tech on Wednesday afternoon.

“I can’t even put into words just how proud I am of this team,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said.

The win was Maryland’s first in its previous four bowl appearances — its last postseason victory came 11 years ago to the day in the 2010 Military Bowl at RFK Stadium. The Terrapins finished the 2021 season 7-6, their first winning season since their inaugural Big Ten campaign in 2014. The loss was the worst for Virginia Tech (6-7) in the program’s 34 trips to a bowl game.

“They were a better team,” Virginia Tech interim coach J.C. Price said. “They outcoached us. They outplayed us. I give my hats off to Maryland and their staff. They prepared their guys. They were ready to go.” 

Tagovailoa, who was named Pinstripe Bowl most valuable player, was crisp on his throws throughout, going 20-of-24 passing and ending his season with 26 passing touchdowns, marking another Maryland record he has tied or broken in 2021.

“I hope it quiets some of the critics and he gets the respect that he deserves as a quarterback,” Locksley said of his starter under center. “I feel like we’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if not the country.” 

“We wouldn’t be in this situation that we’re in with the winning season if it wasn’t for Taulia.” 

Tagovailoa noted the extra practice time Maryland had leading up to the game, including seven-on-seven practices he led while Locksley was on the recruiting trail, as being a large part of why Maryland’s offense boasted such rhythm and energy.

“I think the way we responded to it was great,” Tagovailoa said. “I think that really did help us getting back to the basics because it’s something you don’t really get to focus on when you are in the season because it’s more about schemes and watching film and stuff like that.”

Maryland played its most complete game of the season at the most opportune time. The Terrapins scored points on the final seven drives of the game, committed a season-low three penalties, and forced the Hokies to go three-and-out on offense four times. Only two of Virginia Tech’s 11 drives went longer than 36 yards.

“Our team did a great job on offense of just sticking to what we wanted to get done,” Locksley said. “Our quarterback stayed really consistent with his execution, and the guys up front gave him time to make the throws, and also we were able to run the ball, and I think that played a major part in it. Wore them down a little bit.”

The Terrapins came ready for the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, and none more so than Tarheeb Still. After the Hokies went three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, Still caught the ensuing punt at his own 8-yard line, found a seam up the middle of the field, and finished it off running down the near sideline. The 92-yard punt return score was the first of its kind in Pinstripe Bowl history and the longest such score in Terrapins’ program history.

“Guys have been bugging me about it all year that I haven’t really been doing that on punt return, so now that I finally made a play in this type of environment, it felt good,” Still said. 

“My guys, they blocked it up real good for me, so I would have been a fool not to return it. They did their part, so I just had to do mine.”

Virginia Tech finally found some life on their first drive of the second quarter. The Hokies appeared to be headed for their third three-and-out when punter Peter Moore pulled in the snap and ran on fourth and four from his own 23. The 8-yard run was good enough for a first down and a shock to wake up the Hokies offense.

Tech responded again two plays later with a 42-yard pass from quarterback Connor Blumrick to receiver Jaden Payoute. The first Virginia Tech red zone trip would end in a 36-yard field goal, and Maryland’s lead was cut to 7-3.

But in the kind of execution not seen since Maryland’s 4-0 start to the season, the Terrapins’ offense answered with a home run. Tagovailoa found receiver Jones on a beautifully-thrown ball, and the senior went in untouched for a 70-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead. It was Jones’ first career touchdown in his final game as a Terrapin.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for a game like this,” Locksley said of Jones‘ day, “and it’s only fitting that he would get it in his last game as a Terp and score two touchdowns after not scoring for four years.”

“I’ll definitely remember this,” Jones said. “I’ll tell this story for I don’t know how many years, but it’s definitely special.”

On Maryland’s next possession, Tagovailoa moved the Terrapins into Tech territory with passes to receivers Brian Cobbs and Rakim Jarrett before running back Antwaine Littleton punched it in from the four to extend the lead to 18.

Virginia Tech responded with a methodical 13-play, 75-yard drive near the end of the first half. Blumrick finished it himself with a three yard sneak, and the Hokies cut the Terrapins’ lead to 11, 21-10. 

Kicker Joseph Petrino tacked on a 44-yard field goal as the second quarter ended to put Maryland up 24-10 at the half, and the third quarter began with more of the same from Tagovailoa and Co.

Jarrett did his best impression of Yankees great Bernie Williams, hauling in a diving catch at midfield on third and 10 to keep a drive alive. The Terrapins would get inside the red zone with the help of 35 rushing yards from Tayon Fleet-Davis in his most significant action to that point. The drive stalled at the Virginia Tech 12, though, and Petrino would add his second field goal, boosting Maryland to a 27-10 lead.

The Terrapins salted the game away on their next drive. On fourth-and-four from the Hokies’ 32, Tagovailoa remained patient as his first and second reads didn’t develop. He looked left and found Jones alone with no one near him for the completion. Jones did the rest, taking the pass 32 yards for his second score and a 34-10 Maryland lead. 

The Terrapins defense got in on the scoring in the third quarter when defensive lineman Greg Rose scooped up a strip-sack fumble forced by teammate Nick Cross at the 10 and ran it in for a touchdown. Running backs Roman Hemby and Colby McDonald added touchdown runs in the final minutes of the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to complete the rout.

Locksley made an emphasis in the weeks leading up to the bowl about how he was treating the game as both a way to both send out a senior class that dealt with multiple levels of turmoil in their four years in College Park as well as an opener to the 2022 season for those Terps that remain.

“This is the group to me is the one that we’ll forever be indebted,” Locksley said. “They’ve been through a lot as a group. It’s been well talked about. We know about the things that they’ve had to endure, but what they’ve just shown is the resiliency, and to me that’s the Terp way.”

Headed into what will be his fourth season, Locksey believes the foundation has been set by his 2021 squad to achieve the “best” that he always preaches is ahead.

“Those kids, this is what we recruit them for to Maryland,” Locksley said. “To develop them not just as great football players, but great men. At the end of the day if I’m doing that, I feel pretty confident about the success that we’ll have.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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