It could’ve been another blow for Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, playing in his final game at Spartan Stadium with two interceptions already to his name.
But when Isaiah Davis rose up and got both hands on the underthrown pass, the ball slipped through the Maryland football linebacker’s fingers and fluttered into wide receiver Cody White’s arms instead for a 24-yard gain. The missed opportunity displayed the Terps at their purest, continuing a season-long trend of almosts and ifs that have amounted to seven straight losses.
Five plays after Davis’ almost-interception, Lewerke punched in a quarterback sneak at the goal line, giving Michigan State a lead back in the second quarter and leaving Maryland with more what-ifs.
Lewerke’s short-yardage rush was Michigan State’s lone touchdown, relying on Matt Coghlin to kick its way to a 19-16 victory. The Terps had their chances and could’ve ended the 2019 campaign in a better place. But as Lewerke dropped to a knee in the fourth quarter, winding the remaining time off the clock, coach Mike Locksley’s squad found itself in an all-too-familiar position.
In reality, Maryland’s season has been over since it was eliminated from bowl eligibility earlier this month in a 73-14 loss at Ohio State. But the Terps (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten) have preached the importance of good performances late in the year to lay the groundwork for next season, assist in recruiting efforts and send their seniors out on a rare high-note.
Locksley has called this “year zero,” yet results on the field will soon be the barometer for improvement — not just the “small victories” the first-year coach has pointed to time and again that occur in the locker room or on the practice field.
And for a team that emphasizes how early it still is in its development, a 41-second span late in the first quarter of Saturday’s season finale was perhaps the most encouraging sequence in an otherwise dismal end to the campaign.
True freshman cornerback Deonte Banks — pressed into significant service due to the litany of injuries in the Terps’ secondary — undercut a slant route and picked off Lewerke near midfield. It was another early turnover forced by Maryland’s defense, keeping his team in the game despite a putrid start on offense that included an interception and a fumble.
Two plays later, sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus created separation from cornerback Shakur Brown with a stutter step, then put on the jets and reeled in a 44-yard touchdown pass, giving the Terps their first lead in over a month. Demus finished with seven catches for 96 yards, his best performance since a 10-catch effort against Purdue last month.
That edge wouldn’t last long, with Lewerke’s rushing score coupling with two field goals from Coghlin to establish a 13-7 advantage entering halftime.
But after intermission, Maryland drove 60 yards on seven plays to set up Joseph Petrino’s second field goal of the season before running back Anthony McFarland broke off a 63-yard touchdown run on the next drive, his first score since Oct. 5 against Rutgers. McFarland’s scamper offered the Terps their first second-half lead since his two rushing scores in that win over the Scarlet Knights.
So often this season, though, Maryland has been its own worst nightmare. Saturday was no different. The Terps’ defense ensured two early giveaways turned into just six points, and that unit made a stand following quarterback Josh Jackson’s fourth-quarter fumble, too. But Coghlin still knocked through a 32-yard field goal to cap a 13-play drive and level the scoreline at 16 — taking advantage of Petrino’s earlier blocked extra point.
As Michigan State (6-6, 4-5) scrambled its way to bowl eligibility — needing results the last two weeks against Rutgers and Maryland to buck a five-game losing streak and reach six wins — Maryland trudged to a close. Of its 316 total yards, 190 came on four plays, a continuation of a big-play dependency.
And while its defense played admirably, Coghlin came through once more for the Spartans, nailing a 33-yard effort to establish a 19-16 advantage with just over two minutes remaining.
In the end, as Lewerke knelt down on the field following his team’s game-sealing stop, Jackson also knelt on Maryland’s sideline. He faced away from Lewerke and the victory formation, away from where his fourth-down throw had just fallen to the turf, away from another loss.
It had all been too familiar to watch.