CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Who needs a running game when you can get big plays on special teams and through the air?
That’s the formula Maryland used Saturday, opening an early 17-point lead and fighting off a furious Virginia rally for a 27-20 victory.
Virginia held the Terrapins to minus-2 yards rushing and 235 yards overall, but a 100-yard kickoff return by Stefon Diggs and some big plays in the passing game by fellow freshman Perry Hills were more than enough to compensate.
Hills was 14 of 26 for 237 yards and one touchdown as Maryland (4-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) extended Virginia’s losing streak to five games and all but ended their hopes of making a bowl game. Diggs had four catches for 89 yards, including a nifty 60-yarder that led to the field goal that put the Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3) in a 17-point hole late in the first quarter.
Diggs took the opening kickoff in the end zone, paused briefly and then came out.
“I hesitated because my guy was telling me to stay in,” Diggs said. “I had great faith in my blocking. I knew there were going to be a lot of touchbacks because they have a great kicker, but when we get a shot we’re going to take it.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said he had told his team it needed to start strong, but even he didn’t expect to start that fast.
“With Stefon, nothing he does surprises me,” Edsall said. “Someone told me it was five yards deep in the end zone and I figure he’s going to go down and then I see him start and I go, “No, no, no. Go, go, go! Yeah! It was one of those deals.”
Diggs’ 60-yard catch-and-run later in the quarter helped bail the Terrapins out of a bad situation. Maryland was pinned at its 2 before Hills hit Kevin Dorsey on a 27-yard pass. On the next play he found Diggs, who appeared hemmed in after a short gain but was able to spin away from a defender who had his shirttail, reverse his field and weave his way down the right side.
“It was just one of those instinct plays,” Diggs said.
It turned out Maryland needed the big cushion, because Virginia kept plugging away and pulled within seven points behind backup quarterback Michael Rocco with 4:10 left in the game. Virginia was down 27-13 when Rocco relieved a struggling Phillip Sims and promptly led a 10-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee to make it 27-20.
“Mike did a good job coming in and making some throws there, leading us to a scoring drive,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “He’s a competitor, and I wouldn’t doubt he’d do anything else than try to try to give us his absolute best effort and a chance to win the game there at the end.”
But that was all the magic Rocco could muster. After a three-and-out by Maryland, the Cavaliers got the ball back at the Terrapins’ 49 with 1:51 left, but four Rocco passes fell incomplete.
Sims had a rough outing in his second start for the Cavaliers. Anthony Nixon’s interception of Sims’ third pass of the game led to Maryland’s second touchdown, a 20-yard scoring pass from Hills to Justus Pickett less than five minutes into the game. His night ended with a lost fumble at the Virginia 15 that led to Maryland’s last score, a 28-yard Brad Craddock field goal with 6:08 left.
He had several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, was sacked five times and finished 13 of 28 for 139 yards and one touchdown — a 20-yard strike to E.J. Scott late in the third period that cut Maryland’s lead to 17-10.
“We tried to make some throws for Phillip to have success with some completions, and just didn’t get it down with the completions,” London said.
Virginia did have some success on the ground against the nation’s seventh-best run defense, rushing for 168 yards behind a career-best 129-yard effort by Kevin Parks.
The Cavaliers moved the ball well between the 20s but continued a season-long trend of struggling in the red zone. Ian Frye kicked two short field goals, the first of his career, after starting kicker Drew Jarrett’s only attempt was a low line-drive that was blocked.
With the Maryland victory, the border rivals are headed in opposite directions. Edsall liked his team’s resolve.
“They just keep playing, they keep playing hard and giving everything they have for 60 minutes,” he said.
London was asked if the spiraling fortunes threaten to erode the good will he has built with Cavaliers’ fans after last year’s 8-5 finish.
“I understand that we live in a culture of wins and losses and things like that,” he said. “It’s not from a lack of effort or a lack of trying. I understand that. I am more resolved to help these young men experience success on the field, as they are in other areas of their life.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)