It had become routine for Jake Funk. The fifth-year senior running back was used to being called on in big situations to help Maryland football break through.
This time, the Terps were trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter, Maryland’s offense unable to crack a sturdy Rutgers defensive corps. But starting near midfield, the team leaned on Funk. Though he couldn’t make forward progress on his first carry, he settled in, ploughing ahead for seven yards before breaking away for 44 yards and a touchdown.
That helped wake up a sleepy offense that trudged through most of the first three quarters, but a rash of penalties and two late field goals by the Scarlet Knights doomed the Terps in a back-and-forth 27-24 overtime loss Saturday in College Park.
“Good teams don’t beat themselves,” coach Mike Locksley said. “I thought we played hard, but again we didn’t play very smart.”
Entering the contest, Maryland was shorthanded. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was one of several key starters held out for medical reasons, leaving redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre to start in his place.
And it was immediately evident that the Terps (2-3) missed their dynamic, gun-slinging sophomore. The offense sputtered with LeGendre — more of a runner — under center. Maryland punted five times in the first half, only converting two third downs while LeGendre passed for 42 yards and threw two interceptions.
In the second quarter, Locksley needed a change and substituted in walk-on Eric Najarian. The results were initially much the same, with the Terps going three-and-out on each of his first two possessions.
All the while, Rutgers (3-5) could not capitalize. The Scarlet Knights’ offense similarly ground to a halt, punting seven times in the first half.
After another poor drive from LeGendre, Najarian got one more shot to make amends. And for the first time all afternoon, Maryland moved the ball. First, a 10-yard dump off. Then, a 20-yard pass plus a defensive penalty. Then, another 20-yard dump off, and the Terps were in the red zone.
Though the Scarlet Knights held, Joseph Petrino calmly nailed a 37-yard field goal to put the first points on the board.
“After the first drive, you kind of just shake the cobwebs out,” Najarian said. “It really kind of just starts to feel like football.”
Once the half flipped, Rutgers broke through. The Scarlet Knights needed just four plays to traverse 84 yards, finding the end zone on a Bo Melton 44-yard reverse. And two drives later, they mustered points again, this time on a 20-yard catch by Isaih Pacheco.
But the Terps matched them. And with the air not a viable option, they turned to their ground attack.
Led by Funk, one of a handful of Maryland players celebrating Senior Day, the team slowly wore down Rutgers’ front seven. And Funk took advantage, breaking off that 44-yard touchdown run as the Terps found the end zone for the first time.
On the following possession, Funk added a 52-yard scamper, setting up Najarian to complete his first career touchdown pass. The 23-yard strike to Dontay Demus Jr. helped Maryland take a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Funk finished the afternoon with 180 yards, his second-highest total this season.
“We needed to score points to win,” Funk said. “Just guys believing in each other and being able to execute [helped the offense].”
The Scarlet Knights — aided by two Terps’ defensive penalties — responded, and Melton found the end zone for the second time. But Maryland, trailing for the third time in the half, came back yet again.
Facing third-and-19 near midfield, Najarian scrambled out of what would’ve been a third-straight sack and launched one deep for Brian Cobbs. The junior wideout hauled it in, spun away from a defender, and rushed into the end zone untouched for his first career touchdown reception. That reception boosted Cobbs to a career-high 99 receiving yards, while Najarian broke the 200-yard passing mark.
But Maryland’s defense faltered late, committing three critical penalties on Rutgers’ final two drives. That set up Ambrosio to avenge his earlier miss by drilling a 39-yard field goal to send the contest to overtime.
He opened the extra period with another field goal, sending the Terps’ offense trotting out to the turf one more time.
And Maryland’s steady hand was nowhere to be found, with Funk confined to the sidelines after spraining his shoulder on that 52-yard run. The offense stalled, as it had so many times on the day, and a 50-yard field goal try sailed wide left as Rutgers poured onto the field in celebration.
“We had a chance to finish the game on offense and we didn’t,” Locksley said, “and we had a chance to finish the game on defense and we didn’t.”