Taulia Tagovailoa’s Masterful Performance Guides Maryland to Thrilling Overtime Win Over Minnesota

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

The turf at Maryland Stadium was flooded with Maryland’s bright red jerseys and black helmets flying in pure jubilation and celebration shortly following Minnesota kicker Brock Walker’s missed extra point. 

Trailing by 17 entering the fourth quarter, the Terps had put the finishing touches on a historic 45-44 comeback win over Minnesota. Entering tonight’s matchup, Maryland was 0-71 all-time when trailing by 17 points entering the fourth quarter. However, when it mattered most, Maryland stepped up in all three phases of the game propelling them to the victory.

In overtime, Maryland sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa noticed the play breaking down and began to sprint towards the left pilon. The young-signal caller dove for a go-ahead two-yard touchdown–one of his several highlight plays on the night.

“We thought they were going to be in man defense, the two receivers were cracking down and the corner fell of,” Tagovailoa said. “After that [Dontay Demus] ran [the corner] out and it was open for me to run.”

As he did all night long, Tagovailoa stepped up under pressure leaving last week’s struggles in the rearview mirror. His fifth and final touchdown put Tagovailoa in rare company. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he’s only the third Big Ten player over the last 20 seasons with 350 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in the same game.

In addition to Tagovailoa, Maryland’s rushing attack looked revitalized, led by senior Jake Funk, who finished with a career-high 221 yards. For the first time in program history, the Terps had both a 300-yard passer and 200-yard rusher in the same game. That success both running and passing led to 675 total yards for Maryland, their largest total since Oct. 27, 2018 against Illinois. Funk’s total is the highest by a Maryland running back since Nov. 17, 2018 against Ohio State.

“I was seeing open holes, it was a collective team effort,” Funk said. “I’m just the one who gets credit for the rushing yards, but it was all 11 guys blocking.”

Despite surrendering 451 yards and 262 rushing yards, Maryland’s defense stepped up when it needed to most. Linebacker Chance Campbell–the unquestioned leader of the Terps unit–finished with 13 tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. As the Gophers offense looked to shut the door on Maryland’s comeback efforts, the defense forced consecutive punts shutting out Minnesota in the final quarter.

“Really proud of our team tonight, it was a great character win for us,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “We got great play out of our offense, we got great play out of our defense when we needed it most and then our special teams came through as well.”

Maryland’s offensive firepower was on display from the opening drive. On that series, Tagovailoa completed five passes to four different receivers and scampered for a 23-yard run. To cap that drive, Tagovailoa connected with Funk on an eight-yard touchdown reception. Building on the momentum from the offense, Maryland’s defense also forced Minnesota to go three and out on its opening series.

Both Tagovailoa’s anticipation and play-making ability allowed Maryland to continue hitting their stride on the second drive. On the second play of the series, Tagovailoa spun to his right and rifled a pass to a diving Rakim Jarrett for the first down. The next play, Minnesota linebacker Thomas Rush sprinted into the backfield, unblocked, in heavy pursuit of Tagovailoa. Anticipating the rush, Tagovailoa spun away from two defenders and found space down the sideline en route to a 39-yard touchdown.

“We work a lot of movement drills with Coach Montgomery and Coach Johnson,” Tagovailoa said. “Those are the drills that coach always tells us when passes break down, use two hands on the ball and you can spin out or step up. “I’m happy that I took what we used in practice and used it at the game.”

Maryland seemed primed to take over the game. However, the Minnesota offense bounced back on the following drive. Headlined by a 28-yard reception from wide receiver Rashod Bateman and a 16-yard rush by Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota executed an eight-play 81-yard touchdown drive of their own. Ibrahim scored his first of four first-half touchdowns, cutting the Maryland lead to 14-7. 

However, it didn’t take the Terps long to respond. To start the ensuing drive, Tagovailoa fired a pass into wide receiver Jeshaun Jones on the run-pass option. Jones broke the tackle and beelined down the left sideline for a 76-yard touchdown–his first touchdown since returning from a torn ACL. 

Although the Terps regained a 14-point lead, the high-octane Gophers offense continued to execute at a high-level. The Gophers put together an 11-play 65-yard drive with Ibrahim and the rushing attack serving as the leading catalyst. 

After the offense scored, the Gophers defense needed to come up with a big play and provided just that. With Maryland facing 1st and 15, Tagovailoa was intercepted by defensive linemen Deandre Carter on a tipped pass. Carter and the Gophers defense snuffed out the screen pass and baited the young signal caller into making the contested throw. 

Carter returned the interception 22 yards, setting up the Gophers with excellent field position at the 29-yard line. A leaping 28-yard reception from Chris-Autman Bell set up the Gophers at the one-yard line and Ibrahim scored his third touchdown of the game several plays later tying the game at 21.

Minnesota’s defense came up clutch once again on Maryland’s next possession. With a 3rd and 2 opportunity from the Gophers 43-yard line, backup quarterback Lance LeGendre was stopped for no gain, setting up a 4th and 2 opportunity. Locksley elected to punt the ball in an attempt to pin Minnesota deep in their own territory. 

While the Gophers began the drive at their nine-yard line, their rushing attack continued to thrive. Ibrahim and Treyson Potts began the drive with back-to-back 33 and 29-yard rushes respectively. Three plays later, the Gophers took their first lead of the game 28-21 on Ibrahim’s fourth rushing touchdown of the half.

In desperate need of a score, Maryland’s offense put together a strong drive with a strong connection between Tagovailoa and Demus. 2nd and 1 on the Gophers 25-yard line, both Jarrett and Jeshaun Jones were called for back-to-back penalties moving Maryland back to the 44-yard line. 

Gaining a few yards on third down, Joseph Petrino headed out to kick a 51-yard field goal, which bounced off the left upright and out. Unable to score on the final drive, Maryland headed into the half trailing 28-21, allowing 21 unanswered points.

Continuing their wave of momentum from the first half, quarterback Tanner Morgan and the Gophers offense continued to thrive. After an unnecessary roughness penalty on defensive linemen Mosiah Nisili-Kite gave the Gophers an automatic first down, Morgan and wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell connected for a 39-yard touchdown extending the Minnesota lead to 35-21. 

Sensing that Minnesota was pulling away, Maryland’s offense did its best to mount a comeback. Catalyzed by a 51-yard run from Funk and an 18-yard catch from Demus, the Terps were set up in prime position at the one-yard line. 

However, on the next play, freshman running back Peny Boone stretched out for the end zone and fumbled the ball. The Gophers recovered the fumble and took advantage of Boone’s mistake compiling a 73-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes and resulted in a field goal.

Despite trailing 38-21 yielding 31 unanswered points, entering the fourth quarter, Maryland remained composed and didn’t flinch on either side of the ball. Tagovailoa and Demus continued their strong rapport on the run-pass option, connecting on a 15-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 38-28.

 Playing with renewed energy, Maryland’s defense, led by Campbell, picked up its first crucial stop of the final quarter. 

“We needed to close out the game,” defensive linemen Lawtez Rogers said. “Our defense really stepped up and it was a great feeling especially being out there to see it. “We didn’t take our foot off the gas, we were determined.”

Thriving off the energy from a defensive stop, Tagovailoa connected with Darryl Jones and Demus setting Maryland up with another opportunity to put points on the board. However, when Maryland was just outside the redzone, Tagovailoa couldn’t escape intense pressure and was sacked for a 16-yard loss. Although he missed a kick from the same distance earlier, Petrino came out and drilled a 51-yard field goal cutting the deficit to 38-31 with 7:06 remaining. 

Minnesota once again had an opportunity to shut the door on a Terps comeback, but the defense stymied that opportunity. On 3rd and 6, Morgan scrambled left looking for an open receiver and slipped, allowing Campbell to come in and finish the sack. 

“Our defense kept banging away, kept fighting and kept playing hard,” Locksley said. “I thought the energy level changed as they were able to have more success.”

In a game filled with so many momentum swings, Tagovailoa and the offense had their opportunity to tie the score. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Funk found a seam on the left side of the field and dove into the endzone for a 19-yard touchdown tying the game at 38.

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

With 3:38 remaining, Maryland completed the 17-point comeback, and the defense continued their outstanding fourth-quarter play stopping the Gophers one last time in regulation. Maryland’s offense had an opportunity to close out the game in regulation, but penalties halted their progress and sent the game to overtime.

The aforementioned Tagovailoa’s scramble put Maryland on top 45-38 in the first overtime– the Terps first lead since the second quarter. Although Minnesota scored the presumptive game-tying touchdown in overtime, Walker’s miss secured the Terps hard-fought victory. 

Maryland’s resilience and grit was on full display Friday night and will be pivotal for the next two weeks as the Terps enter a grueling stretch against Ohio State and Penn State.

“What I learned most about the team tonight is that they’re listening,” Locksley said. “I didn’t see us flinch when we were down, I didn’t see us get overly excited when we were up and that’s the type of team we’re going to have to be.”