Northwestern midfielder Matt Moderwell possessed the ball on the flank in the 66th minute and surveyed for teammates in the box. With just one option there, Moderwell still opted to flick a cross in.

The innocent-looking ball kept sailing toward the goal, forcing Maryland soccer goalkeeper Russell Shealy to attempt to deflect it away at the last second. But Shealy mistimed his jump, and the ball tucked right under the bar and into the net to put the Wildcats up 2-1.

Shealy stood stunned at the goal line as the Wildcats celebrated what proved to be the game-winning goal, handing No. 25 Maryland a 3-1 defeat, its first home loss of the season in a lackluster showing in front of its supporters.

“Uncharacteristic home Friday night effort,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Just feel gutted and empty with that.”

[Read more: Freshmen Malcolm Johnston and Justin Harris have carved out big roles for Maryland soccer]

Northwestern didn’t waste any time jumping on the Terps during their bleak start. Thirteen seconds into the match, the Wildcats pressed forward and earned a corner kick.

In the fourth minute, with the away side establishing itself as the aggressor, Moderwell possessed the ball on the left side of the field and drove a hard pass into the box. The Terps’ center backs, Marques Antoine and Johannes Bergmann, seemed to be in position to direct the ball out of play, but the pass instead rolled through the goalmouth.

Shealy’s lunging attempt to prevent it from going any further proved to be futile, with Moderwell’s ball making it all the way to midfielder Bardia Kimiavi at the far post. Kimiavi had inside position on the far-post defender and easily slotted in the goal on the vacant net for the game’s opening score.

“We respect every opponent we play, but they came out with a lot of energy,” defender Matt Di Rosa said. “All the credit to them. They came out hard, they came to play.”

[Read more: As Maryland soccer’s holding mid, Nick Richardson draws comparisons to Andrew Samuels]

Antoine, a freshman, made his first career start in place of Brett St. Martin, who had been in the starting 11 in every other match this season. The freshman’s time at center back was short-lived, though, as he was pulled for St. Martin in the 18th minute.

With the goal, the Wildcats ended the Terps’ streak of holding its opposition scoreless at Ludwig Field for 274 minutes to start the season.

William James Herve, the Terps’ top returning scorer from last year, made his first appearance since suffering an injury on Aug. 29 in the season opener. But his return was cut short in the eighth minute when the forward limped off the field. After the game, Cirovski said he believes Herve tweaked his prior hamstring injury.

Cirovski’s squad has grown accustomed to Herve’s absence in the lineup, and the 27th-year coach responded by shifting players in the formation to put forwards Luke Brown and Brayan Padilla on the field at the same time.

Ten minutes into the second half, that duo showed its connectivity. Brown carried possession into the attacking third of the field and dished a pass off to Padilla. The sophomore fielded the pass, cut to the middle of the pitch and drew the attention of three defenders.

As three Wildcats closed in on him, Padilla struck the ball with the outside of his strong left foot and delivered his shot beyond goalkeeper Miha Miskovic’s reach to ripple the back of the net and equalize for the Terps.

“It was a great ball by Luke,” Padilla said. “I just saw the chance to shoot, and I went for it.”

The goal injected energy into the previously dreary performance for the Terps.

Padilla looked to provide the go-ahead score with two more shot attempts, but both went awry. A strong chance from Brown flew on goal into the hands of Miskovic, leaving the forward crouching at the edge of the box in frustration.

After those quality chances, Northwestern capitalized with Moderwell’s seemingly harmless cross. The Wildcats added one more in the 86th minute to seal the result, as forward Ty Seager pounced on a mishit pass back to Shealy before chipping a shot to beat the goalkeeper’s last-ditch attempts to fend it off.

Cirovski was pleased with the team’s response out of halftime but recognizes the need to buck the troublesome trend of slow starts that have surfaced in half of his team’s games this season.

“You never want to let a team score that early on you and generate that kind of confidence,” Cirovski said. “That’s the third time this year that I thought we’ve started really poorly, and that’s too many out of the first six games.”