Illini stumble late to fall to Terrapins, 20-17

By IlliniGuys.com Staff

September 17, 2021

Maryland's Joseph Petrino drilled a 32 yard field goal as time expired as the Terrapins scored 10 unanswered points in the final 2:30 to steal a 20-17 victory from Illinois.

The win came in Maryland's Big Ten opener and gave the Terps their first 3-0 start since 2016.

Illinois' much-maligned defense started much differently than in recent weeks. A week after allowing 200 yards and 14 points in the first quarter at Virginia, the Illini (1-3, 1-1) gave up just 40 yards and no points in the first 15 minutes of play against the Terrapins.   Meanwhile, the Illini offense found new life with Brandon Peters at quarterback.  The senior saw his first action since being knocked out of the first quarter of the season opener against Nebraska and the Illini posted ten first downs in the first half.  But neither team was able to get into the end zone, settling for a 3-3 halftime score.

Maryland came out of the locker room with a quick score, a Tayon Fleet-Davis touchdown run gave the Terrapins a 10-3 lead.  After an Illinois three-and-out series, the Terps were driving for another score when the Illini defense forced a Fleet-Davis fumble that Kerby Joseph recovered at the Illinois 7-yard line.

From there, the Illini put together one of their best drives of the year.  Freshman Josh McCray ran an impressive and bruising 38 yards for his first career touchdown and a tie score at 10.

With momentum on their side, the Illinois defense stepped again on the very next play, forcing another fumble with Seth Coleman on the recovery this time.  The turnover gave Illinois its best field position of the game at the Maryland 25-yard line.  But on the first play from scrimmage, Peters sailed his pass over the head of his intended receiver right into the hands of a Maryland defender, an interception that gave the ball back to the visitors.

The teams exchanged punts in the rest of the quarter, until Illinois took its first lead of September on a fluke play.  With running backs Chase Brown and McCray out of the game with injuries, freshman Reggie Love broke free from the line on a carry and was running up the left sideline when he fumbled the ball.  It took two bounces forward and into the hands of receiver Casey Washington, who carried it 30 yards for the touchdown and a 17-10 Illinois lead early.

After forcing a Maryland punt, Illinois appeared on their way to a victory, leading with 10:42 left in the game as they began a drive on their own 23-yard line.  The Illini had momentum after  a 10-yard defensive holding penalty was called on Maryland, keeping the drive alive inside Terrapins territory.  But the drive stalled after that and a Blake Hayes punt gave Maryland the ball on their own 14 yard line with 4:50 remaining.

That's when Taulia Tagovailoa took over.  The junior quarterback engineered an 8-play, 86 yard drive that took only 2:37 off the clock, capped by a touchdown pass to Tayon Fleet-Davis.  The extra point tied the game at 17.

The Illini offense fell apart on its final drive.  Trying to get into field goal range, Illinois went backwards on back to back quarterback sacks of Peters, who was then called for intentional grounding on a crucial 3rd down play.  Another Hayes punt gave Maryland the ball on the Illinois' 46-yard line and Tagovailoa drove the Terps down the field in the final seconds to set up Petrino's end-of-game heroics.

The loss extends Illinois' losing streak to three games as the Illini now prepare to travel to Purdue a week from Saturday.

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