By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO
A rainbow covered the skies following the game-stopping thunderstorms signaling a smile from the heavens, when Maryland and Texas returned to play after an unexpected weather delay in the fourth quarter at Fed Ex Field. Perhaps it was the presence of the late Jordan McNair who needed to give the Terps a lift after they had blown a 22 point lead on an emotional day where his teammates remembered him from start to finish.
McNair, the offensive lineman who passed away from heat stroke in June, was honored by his teammates with #79 decals on their helmets, a moment of silence with his image on the jumbotron, and by lining up with only 10 players for the game’s opening play. The late lineman may have been the intangible they needed to win.
Maryland is playing for more than wins and losses this season, they are playing for McNair. Emotion can take teams a long way in sports and perhaps this was the start of a special season in College Park. The Terps had several chances to give in but ultimately pushed through a series of challenges that may have broken one of their lesser teams to beat Texas 34-29 for the second consecutive year on September 1.
“We just stayed together which has been our motto through everything that’s happened,” said wide receiver Taivon Jacobs during the postgame press conference. “Everybody in our building just packed our parachute and stuck together.”
Any doubts that Maryland was up to this emotional challenge was put to bed on their first drive. The Terps’ march downfield was choreographed better than the performance by their band. With Kasim Hill starting at quarterback for the first time since his season ended last year in Austin the offense was almost flawless.
“Its been a long time since we played a football game and it was good just to be back out on the field with your brothers,” said Hill.
Maryland’s freshmen were massive. The neophyte Terps contributed to every score. Jeshaun Jones, from D.C.’s Friendship Collegiate high school, was the star. He busted through the Texas defense for 28 yards and the game’s first touchdown to cap their opening drive. Jones also went deep against the Longhorn secondary for a 65-yard scoring reception. In the second quarter, Jones converted a jet sweep option by connecting with Tavion Jacobs for a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Maryland its biggest lead at 24-7.
Jones scored three times in the first half placing himself in elite company. He became the first college player to score on a rush, reception and pass in his first game in 20 years.
The Longhorns used their uptempo, offense to change the game’s momentum and took the lead. Texas scored 22 unanswered points behind sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Texas’ defense also stopped Maryland’s Jake Funk in the end zone for a safety which closed the gap to 24-22 at halftime. Ehlinger found Collin Johnson in the endzone on for a touchdown then Kyle Porter’s two-yard score gave Texas its only lead.
Interim head coach Matt Canada’s leadership was tested also after both teams went to the locker rooms as the mini monsoon hit. He first had to re-establish the Terps offense after overcoming an 86 minute weather delay and conservative play calling that kept Texas alive. The Terps went 75 yards in just under five minutes for the game’s final and decisive score while their defense produced three fourth quarter turnovers to seal the game.
The adversity of their offseason seems to have prepared them for challenges of the season to come at least for one big game.