Maryland opened its season Saturday with hope inspired by a new quarterback, new offensive and defensive coordinators, new kicker, new FieldTurf and new uniforms that unlike last year displayed the players' names on their backs.
But, for the longest time, no Terp crossed into the colorful new end zones featuring bold, Maryland flag-inspired patterns. The new quarterback threw three interceptions. The kicker missed a first-half chip shot. For three quarters, the players may have wished their names weren't attached to their jerseys.
But, in a game that proved an exercise in patience for the fans and resilience for the players, Maryland did enough to win. The Terps scored only once -- on tailback Justus Pickett's 6-yard run with 9:52 left -- but it was enough for a 7-6 victory over William and Mary that ended Maryland's eight-game losing streak to finish last season.
"Just as a team it feels good to win -- no matter how you win," said senior linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield. "We haven't won since last September."
Hartsfield helped clinch the victory with a fumble recovery in the final minutes. That seemed fitting because, as Maryland's offense was turning the ball over four times, it was the defense that was keeping the Terps close.
On a fourth-down play from William and Mary's 40-yard line with the Terps holding onto a 7-6 lead, Tribe quarterback Raphael Ortiz was hit by Maryland defensive back Jeremiah Johnson and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Hartsfield, who carried it to the William and Mary 6.
For a fleeting moment, Hartsfield, who had 13 tackles, had thoughts of scooping up the ball and scoring. "I definitely had a shot," he said. "Coach [Randy] Edsall actually came up to me after the game and was like, 'In that situation, I want you to get down.' "
Maryland took over with 1:11 left and ran out the clock.
"Wasn't pretty, but it's a win and that's what's most important," said Edsall, beginning his second season in College Park. "We've got so many things we can take from this game to improve -- and we will."
Among those eager to improve is quarterback Perry Hills, the first true freshman to start at the position for Maryland since Latrez Harrison in 1999. Hills became the starter after redshirt junior C.J. Brown suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last month and was declared out for the season.
Brown was leaning on crutches on the Maryland sideline. The Terps were missing more than a handful of other players because of injuries.
Hills, who was among seven Maryland players making their first career start, completed 16 of 24 passes for 145 yards but was intercepted three times. The first interception came on a deflected pass in the first quarter. On the second, Hills was pressured and threw a desperation pass that was picked off by Tribe safety Brian Thompson, who returned it 32 yards to set up William and Mary's second field goal of the quarter.
"There's simple things I need to improve on -- mistakes that shouldn't happen," said Hills, who afterward had an icebag strapped to a sore right knee.
Hills also overthrew tight end Devonte Campbell from short range in the second quarter. Maryland kicker Brad Craddock, a freshman from Australia, followed by missing a 25-yard field goal wide left with the Terps trailing, 6-0.
"Oh yeah, that's definitely one I would have wanted back," Hills said of the pass." He was wide open in the end zone. The ball came out high after getting hit."
The Terps heard a smattering of boos from some in the announced crowd of 31,321 as the first half ended with a sack of Hills. Among the struggling Terps was cornerback Dexter McDougle, who was whistled for a pair of pass interference penalties in the half.
Edsall said he never considered pulling Hills from the game. "Never crossed our minds. Sometimes kids have to play through things," the coach said.
The quarterback rewarded Edsall for the decision by leading the Terps on a 69-yard drive to give them a 7-6 lead in the fourth quarter. The drive was aided by freshman receiver-returner Stefon Diggs, who high-stepped after catching a 16-yard pass to the Maryland 49.
Six plays later, Hills ran to his right and threw back across his body to Kevin Dorsey, who went 22 yards to the Tribe 14. Hills said the play was designed "to make everyone think you're rolling out to your right" and leave Dorsey uncovered.
Two plays later, Pickett ran in from 6 yards away, giving Maryland fans their only chance to celebrate points.
Diggs had three catches for 30 yards in his Terps debut and excelled as a punt returner. On his first punt return, Diggs gained 15 yards. Diggs entered as a receiver on the next series, catching a 5-yard swing pass for his first career reception. He had three punt returns for 50 yards.
Diggs "is always talking and motivating the team, and when it is time to make plays he is always there," Pickett said. "Diggs can do it all, but he is really special in the return game."
William and Mary took a 3-0 lead following a Maryland turnover. On the second play from scrimmage, Hills' pass was deflected and intercepted by DeAndre Houston-Carson, setting up William and Mary on the Maryland 34. The Tribe advanced on a pass interference penalty by McDougle before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Drake Kuhn with 11:35 left in the first quarter.
Kuhn's second field goal upped the lead to 6-0 with 2:56 left in the first quarter.
"These guys lined up with an ACC team and went toe-to-toe pretty well," William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said.
The Terps got some breaks. A big one came with William and Mary trailing 7-6 late in the game. Tribe quarterback Ortiz missed wide receiver Ryan Moody, who was wide open, on a deep throw in the end zone.
Maryland coaches and players will study the team's mistakes on video. All they cared about Saturday was winning.
"That's all that really matters," McDougle said.
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