Luke Altmyer looked for Casey Washington down the sideline in one-on-one coverage with Corey Coley Jr. As Illinois hoped to set up a game-winning field goal, Washington won the battle for a 29-yard strike into Maryland territory.
The Illini moved the ball to the Terps’ 25 yard-line a few plays later as the clock dwindled to three seconds. Caleb Griffin nailed his 43-yard field goal try as time expired for the walkoff win.
Illinois players met in the endzone around its kicker in celebration while Maryland left the field dejected after a 27-24 loss.
“This starts with me as the leader, I’ve got to have our team prepared to go play,” coach Michael Locksley said. “We don’t make excuses. We did not play to our standard.”
The Terps (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) tied the game at 24 on their final drive with a Jack Howes field goal. But a key play call thwarted their chance for a go-ahead touchdown.
Instead of throwing on third-and-6 on the Illini’s 29-yard line, Locksley ran with Antwain Littleton II for a loss of one. Maryland settled for the three points and let Illinois (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) score the game winner moments later.
“We made the decision to run and it didn’t work,” Locksley said. “That goes back to myself, as the leader. I’ve gotta give us a better play or put us in a better position in that situation.”
A pair of Altmyer completions set up the Illini’s field goal as time expired. The quarterback led the game-winning drive three hours after leading his offense to a quick start and early lead.
Illinois churned 41 yards in six plays, four of them rushes, on its opening drive before Altmyer connected with Pat Bryant on a go route for a 44-yard touchdown. He beat Ja’Quan Sheppard, who tripped to let an uncovered Bryant across the goal line.
Sheppard responded immediately. He deflected a pass that found the waiting arms of Glendon Miller for an interception that set up Maryland’s first touchdown, Sean Greeley’s second receiving touchdown of the season.
Locksley said Tuesday he regretted going for it on fourth down in field goal range on Maryland’s second offensive possession against Ohio State. He wished he took the three points for a “momentum drive.”
In a similar spot against Illinois — fourth down from inside the Illini’s 10-yard line — he elected to keep his offense on the field again. Greeley rewarded Locksley and evened the score at seven apiece.
Miller’s takeaway ignited the Terps’ defense for the majority of the second quarter — Illinois’ next three offensive possessions featured two punts and a missed 45-yard field goal. Maryland needed just one half to collect a season-high four sacks and finished with five.
That excellence collapsed as the end of the half neared. Illinois scored on the final drive of the opening half, a possession aided by two 15-yard personal fouls, and again on the first possession out of halftime. An unsuccessful onside kick gave the Illini short field, which they utilized to go up 21-14.
“I feel like it’s a big momentum thing with the swing,” Roman Hemby said. “… Football is a game of momentum and I feel like whoever has the hot hand is going to dominate the game.”
Before that, the Terps were on their way to reach a two-score advantage with less than two minutes left in the first half. Prather fumbled in Illinois territory then Fuller and Barhman’s costly penalties followed. Maryland entered halftime tied rather than with a lead.
Littleton’s 4-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter trimmed the Terps’ deficit to 24-21. That score remained until Howes’ 48-yard field goal with 1:31 left.
But Griffin responded to Howes’ field goal with one of his own as the clock struck zero. After opening the season with five straight wins, Maryland has suffered consecutive defeats entering its bye week.
“Time is on our side with this bye week, so we have time to really look within and get right,” linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “We’re gonna get it fixed. I believe in us.”