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Maryland left kicking itself

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Missed field goal results in loss to N.C. State

It was set to be the most unlikely victory in an improbable turnaround season for the Maryland Terrapins. Against N.C. State, Brad Craddock was lined up for a game-winning 32-yard field goal, a relative chip shot compared to the clutch 48-yarder he had made earlier in the fourth quarter.

But putting the game in the hands of a freshman, however talented, is risky. When that freshman is from Australia, playing American football for just the seventh time in his life, it increases the degree of difficulty.

So Craddock swung his right leg. The ball went left, crashed into the upright and fluttered to the end zone turf -- no good. Before 40,217 at Byrd Stadium, it was a cruel way for Maryland to lose its most inspired effort this season 20-18.

"I really didn't see it after I kicked it, I just reacted to everyone else," Craddock said. "I was just thinking to myself, 'Take your time because it's just like any other kick.' I actually thought I hit it pretty well. Afterwards I didn't really know what to think."

So many unlikely and inexperienced Terps were set to be heroes. Sophomore quarterback Devin Burns, who had not thrown a pass that mattered since high school, guided a thrilling second-half rally.

Freshman Caleb Rowe, who had never taken a college snap, put Maryland in position to win with three quick-strike plays in the final 32 seconds, one of them a 33-yard pass to freshman Nigel King, who had never caught a pass in a college game.

Freshman Wes Brown (25 carries, 121 yards, one touchdown), running behind a patchwork offensive line, had become the first Terps running back to exceed 100 yards this season.

But their valiant work went for naught.

"It was a very disappointing and heartbreaking loss we had out there," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "But the guys competed and played very hard. They gave everything they had. We put ourselves in a position to win the game there at the end, but we just came up short."

So much was at stake. Maryland (4-3, 2-1) was on the verge of remaining the only undefeated team in the ACC and getting to within a win of bowl eligibility. Instead, the Terps will play next week at doormat Boston College (1-6, 0-4) hoping to regain their elusive winning formula.

Afterward, many of the Terps shared the blame. Brown took his share for a fourth quarter fumble at the N.C. State 44 on first down with 3:29 left. The Wolfpack didn't immediately cash in on the turnover, but Maryland's one-and-out possession extended the game.

"If I didn't fumble, we wouldn't be in that predicament," Brown said.

Despite another strong effort by the Maryland defense, senior end A.J. Francis added that his unit was at fault.

"[Craddock] shouldn't have been in that position," Francis said. "We need to play all 60 minutes, and we didn't."

Instead the day's heroes were N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon, who directed the game-winning drive, and kicker Niklas Sade, who booted the game-winning 43-yard field goal with 32 seconds left.

"Sometimes over the course of a season you have to win a game where you scratch your head a little bit," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "Great effort and we won the football game."

After struggling much of the afternoon against the inspired defense of the Terps, Glennon (23-for-47, 307 yards, two touchdowns) had it when it mattered most as N.C. State took possession at its own 20 with 2:17 left. To get the Wolfpack in field goal range, Glennon completed passes of 17 yards to wideout Bryan Underwood, 14 yards to tight end Asa Watson and 14 yards to wideout Rashard Smith on a controversial call that survived a TV replay review.

"You kind of hate to see it end that way," Glennon said of Craddock's missed kick. "But it was still a great win for us."

Maryland now must consider the future without starting quarterback Perry Hills (12-for-20, 159 yards). The freshman was injured late in the first half when he tried to make a tackle after a David Amerson interception and had to be carted off the field.

"We will wait to see what the MRI tells us about it, but it doesn't look good," Edsall said.

The biggest surprise Saturday was the play of Burns and Rowe. After Hills was injured, Maryland employed a run-oriented spread offense similar to what it used last season with C.J. Brown, and Burns thrived. He rushed 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown and completed three of four passes for 47 yards, directing two drives that produced touchdowns and another that got the Terps the go-ahead field goal from Craddock with 13:39 left.

The 6-foot-3 Burns was a wideout last year but volunteered to return to quarterback after Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Burns, a high school quarterback, came to Maryland to play the position before he was shifted to wide receiver last spring by Edsall.

The presence of Burns and the new tactics fueled a moribund Maryland running game that entered Saturday ranked 118th in the 120-team FBS. Despite working behind a patchwork offensive line, the Terps finished with 206 yards on the ground Saturday, their most productive rushing performance of the season.

"Probably the worst thing that happened to us was that we knocked the quarterback out of the game," O'Brien said. "You get ready for a little bit of option, but you don't get ready for a lot. It's so different than everything else they do. But we finally solved it."

But when the Wolfpack did, in came Rowe, who entered because he gave the Terps the quick-strike capability they needed when they took over at their own 25, trailing 20-18 with 32 seconds left. On his first college snap, Rowe fired a 17-yard completion on a fade route to senior Kevin Dorsey. He followed with an 11-yard scramble, getting out of bounds to stop the clock.

Pressured on the next play, Rowe rolled out of trouble right and spotted King open 20 yards downfield. King took the pass and scooted to the N.C. State 14, giving the Terps a chance to win.

But it was one too many heroics for the young Terps to expect from another freshman.

"My teammates were really supportive because there were so many other opportunities during the game to earn those points," Craddock said. "It's never good when you miss one, but that comes with being a kicker. You just have to play through it."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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