When Maryland's Stefon Diggs ran Saturday's opening kick back 100 yards for a score, it was a precursor to the kind of afternoon it would be for Virginia. Despite a late rally, the Cavaliers dropped to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in league play with a heartbreaking 27-20 loss to Maryland (4-2, 2-0) before a homecoming crowd of 45,556.
Diggs' early dagger put the Cavaliers in a hole just 13 seconds into the contest, paving the way for the Terps' third win in their last four trips to Scott Stadium.
"We knew that Diggs was a special player, a dynamic player," said Virginia coach Mike London, whose team has now dropped five straight after a 2-0 start. "Your job is to run down on the kickoffs and cover the kickoffs, regardless of what you think someone is doing. That's what we're supposed to do, and obviously we didn't do it."
Making his second career start, redshirt sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims was picked off on the initial U.Va. drive by Maryland freshman Anthony Nixon, who returned it to the Cavaliers' 32-yard line. The giveaway led to a 20-yard touchdown toss from Perry Hills to Justus Pickett, and Virginia trailed by 14 not even five minutes into the contest.
Sims' 36-yard pass to a wide-open Zachary Swanson — the longest reception of the second-year fullback's career — on the last play of the first quarter gave the fans something to cheer about other than Alec Vozenilek's two booming punts that at least gave the Terps a long field to work with. However, the drive would end with a block of a Drew Jarrett field-goal attempt from 31 yards out early in the second quarter.
A solid defensive stand on following drive led to another trip to the red zone, and the Cavaliers finally got on the board on Ian Frye's first career field goal make from 20 yards out on his first collegiate attempt to make it 17-3 with 6:05 left in the first half. Kevin Parks' 26-yard run on the second play of the 10-play drive was the longest allowed by the Terrapin defense all season.
"He's an asset to this team," London said of Parks' performance. "When you have guys like him, talented backs like him, you want to find ways to get him the ball. I think he just got into a groove here today being a downhill runner, making guys miss, running with his shoulder pads over his feet, being physical. Those are the things that Kevin gives us when he's in the game."
The Cavs fed off of a momentum swing as the defense forced another punt on the following Maryland possession.
"We knew that if we could keep [the Terrapins] from getting on the scoreboard after that hole, that toward the end, we would have a chance," said Cavalier senior Steve Greer. "So that was kind of our goal was to shut down their run so they couldn't take time off the clock, and give our offense a chance at the end."
Sims kept the chains moving on the drive with a nice 14-yard scramble — the longest of his young Virginia career — on a third-and-12, but the drive stalled and the Wahoos went into the locker room down by 14, despite holding Maryland to zero net rushing yards, running 16 more offensive plays and outgaining the Terrapins by 77 yards after 30 minutes.
Virginia caught a couple of breaks on Maryland's first drive of the second half, as a 36-yard completion down to the Cavalier 13-yard line had the Terps knocking on the door. On 3rd-and-goal, Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg bobbled and dropped a sure touchdown at the 2-yard line, and Brad Craddock's ensuing 27-yard field-goal attempt clanged off of the left upright.
On a third-and-3 from midfield with 5:09 left in the third quarter, Sims was forced to burn two timeouts before running the play, leaving the Hoos with just one for the remaining 20-plus minutes.
After a huge Parks scamper down to the Terrapins' 20 — which put him over 100 yards rushing for the day — Sims redeemed himself with a beautifully-placed ball that wound up in sophomore E.J. Scott's hands in the end zone, cutting the deficit to 17-10 with 2:45 left in the third. Scott led the team with 61 yards on four receptions.
"It was one of the few good passes I threw today," said Sims, who finished the game 13-for-28 for 139 yards and was sacked five times in addition to the costly interception. "I was pleased to get some points on the board and get the offense going back in the right direction."
Maryland fumbled two plays later in its own territory on a handoff exchange, giving the ball right back to U.Va at the Terps' 31. Parks carried the ball 19 yards down to the on the next play to give him a career high of 127 yards on the day, but the team settled for a Frye 22-yard field goal to cut it to 17-13.
"It's tough going in week in and week out, when you know you're producing and you're putting the numbers up, but just not coming away with the points," said Parks, who finished with 17 carries for 129 yards.
Maryland added points to its lead after Diggs got it into U.Va. territory on the ensuing kickoff with a 34-yard return to the 47-yard line. Six plays later, Hills ran one in from six yards out to make it 24-13 with 13:16 to play.
"(Maryland has) a great offense," said LaRoy Reynolds, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles, tying his career high. "We gave one big one to Diggs, which we were trying to prevent the entire week. I think we could have come away with more turnovers… I just kind of think we have to continue the mindset of just running to the ball and having a high tempo."
The mood turned sour for the home crowd when Sims was stripped from behind by Maryland senior linebacker Darin Drakeford on a 3rd-and-long, and the Terps recovered at the Virginia 15-yard line with just under seven minutes left. Four plays and 49 seconds later, the lead was stretched back to 14 on a 28-yard field goal by Craddock with 6:08 remaining.
Junior Michael Rocco was inserted in place of Sims on Virginia's next drive, and made the most of the opportunity, leading the offense on a 10-play, 81-yard march in less than two minutes and the Cavs had new life. The scoring play came on a toss to tight end Jake McGee on the same day his hero Heath Miller's jersey was retired. Rocco became the ninth U.Va. quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards, going 5-for-7 for 79 yards on the drive.
"Mike did a good job coming in and making some throws there, leading us to a scoring drive," London said. "He's a competitor and I wouldn't doubt he'd do anything else than try to give us his absolute best effort and a chance to try to win the game there at the end."
The defense came up with an important three-and-out, and Rocco took over with one last crack at the Terps' 49 with 1:51 left. After three straight incompletions, including one off of Khalek Shepherd's fingertips, it all came down to a 4th-and-15 after an untimely delay-of-game call. Rocco's heave fell to the turf, however, and the Terps' sideline began to celebrate.
"We've got to decide what it is that's holding us back and change it," said Sims.
Added Rocco: "We are a strong bunch of guys, so we are going to turn the page and move on."
Virginia out-rushed Maryland 168 to minus-2 and finished with 151 more yards on the day, but seven penalties for 70 yards and two giveaways proved to be costly.
The Cavaliers host Wake Forest at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the first of three home games out of the final five remaining on the schedule.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times