In the closing minutes of the contest, the Terrapin offense and defense had just delivered two quality possessions and the special teams had a chance to complete the trifecta.
With three seconds to go and the game tied at 17 apiece, kicker Joseph Petrino had the chance to put Friday’s chaotic struggle to bed with a 32 yard field goal. And after sending the ball through the uprights, he delivered too. It was the first game winner of his career.
“We have so much faith and trust in Joe. He makes kicks like that every day,” Tagovailoa said. “This was his moment to shine.”
It was a game winner that gave Maryland football its first 3-0 start since 2016. Sixty minutes of self-imposed mistakes, penalties and some oddities made for a hard fought 20-17 victory over the Illini at Champaign.
“We knew going into this game that it would be a tough game,” head coach Mike Locksley said, “we knew that we would get their best. We were prepared for a four quarter game and it became just that, a Big Ten road win, tough to come by.”
And it was clear early that Big Ten competition was a different animal.
After finding the endzone at least once in each of their opening three drives of their first two games, the Terps were met with considerable resistance week three at Champaign. The Illini defense had finally livened up for the first time in its young season.
Super senior Jake Hansen swiped at the legs of Taulia Tagovailoa to halt the first promising Maryland drive with a sack. In the following drive, veteran defender Tony Adams made the series sealing tackle on Dontay Demus Jr to stall the Terp offense in the red zone.
The Terps came away with three points but lost out on four extra thanks to the Illini defense. The field goal from Joseph Petrino ended up being the only points Maryland scored in the half.
Aside from a reawakened Illinois defense, a number of the Terps’ troubles were self-inflicted.
A muffed punt that pinned Maryland’s offense at the two in its second offensive possession stunted a series before it could begin. In the third defensive possession of the game, a leaping tackle that struck quarterback Brandon Peters above the neck sent defensive back Lavonte Gater out of the game with a targeting ejection and Illinois to the 15 yard line. The first field goal scoring drive for Illinois at the end of the second quarter came as a result of a holding penalty. This score came after Petrino missed a short, 32 yard chip shot.
Ultimately, following a tentative pair of quarters the two sides entered the locker rooms tied at three apiece. A strong opening drive of the second half that included a 35 yard scramble by Tagovailoa that set up a two yard touchdown run by Tayon Fleet-Davis gave Maryland the lead for seven minutes. Illinois managed to equalize at 10 after Fleet-Davis fumbled the ball less than 15 yards away from the endzone in the Terps ensuing offensive possession — the first of many errors in the second half.
The self-inflicted mishaps continued to mount when the Illini’s scoring drive that came as a result of the Fleet-Davis fumble ended with a 38 yard touchdown run in which four consecutive tackles were missed.
The Terps got the ball back and fumbled again, this time Peny Boone coughed it up on the first play of the series. However, Maryland took it right back when Nick Cross snagged his second pick of the season on the following Illini play, erasing the consequence of the Terps second fumble of the contest.
The two sides would exchange empty drives throughout the third quarter after the turnover party, but the Illini offense emerged again to take their first lead in strange fashion.
To open the fourth quarter, Illini running back Reggie Love snuck between his offensive linemen and took off for significant yardage. He was stripped and taken down by corner Jordan Mosley but trailing teammate Casey Washington found the loose ball before any Terp. Washington scooped the stray ball and scored, completing the final 30 yards of a 63 yard touchdown.
Still, the strangeness of it all wasn’t stopping Tagovailoa from continuing his stellar night. With his offense, after back-to-back scoreless series from both teams, the sophomore quarterback orchestrated an error-free two minute drive that leveled the contest back at 17 points.
“[I] Didn’t see any panic,” Locksley said “I mean I thought [Taulia] managed the offense, as well as you can, especially with us being in that situation.”
Aided with the run game and play action, Tagovailoa dimed his way up the field in just two minutes to eclipse 300 yards passing and set up his first touchdown pass of the night to Fleet-Davis. But with well over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Peters had a chance to command a drive of his own.
Before he could make any real push, the defense had an error-free possession of its own to ensure the contest remained even. Two consecutive sacks by lineman Greg Rose set the Illini back at an impossible third and 28, which they failed to convert, ultimately punting the ball right back to the Terps within their own territory with a minute to go.
With the ball at the Illini 46 yard line, Tagovailoa was tasked with a much easier job of setting Petrino up for the game-winning field goal. He just needed two plays to give Petrino the 32 yard opportunity. As time expired, Petrino drilled the kick to close out a tough, unusual contest and propel Maryland to 3-0.
“When we started this year we last we said we had two questions to get answered: Will we be a team that played with great discipline this year and will we be a team that be able to handle adversity and I think we got the second question answered.”