Football: The stuff of dreams and nightmares: The nine plays that determined Northwestern’s 31-24 loss to Maryland


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Senior defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore stands during the Wisconsin game. Adebawore had three total tackles and two sacks in Northwestern’s 31-24 loss to Maryland on Saturday.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

In a duel between two quarterbacks each making their first collegiate starts, Maryland picked up a 31-24 victory over Northwestern in a back-and-forth affair Saturday. 

Fresh off a bye week with sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan leading the charge, the Wildcats looked like an impassioned bunch in College Park, jumping out to an early 10-point advantage in the second quarter. But the self-inflicted wounds which have plagued NU in 2022, namely turnovers and missed tackles, came back to haunt the Cats in the second half. 

“Disappointing loss to say the least,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Now it’s four times that we’ve been in one-score games that we’ve had every opportunity to win the game and our mistakes have led, unfortunately, to us not being successful.”

The battle between NU and the Terrapins saw the pair of signal callers, Sullivan and Billy Edwards Jr., provide some exciting moments, while the running backs starred. Here are nine plays which shifted the tide of this game the most from start to finish, culminating in Maryland’s victory. 

  1. Sullivan’s third drive ends in his first career rushing touchdown

Saturday’s game opened with five consecutive punts, each quarterback looking to establish some rhythm in the opening quarter. That ended when Sullivan got NU on the scoreboard first.

After taking over at midfield, the Michigan native found senior wide receiver Malik Washington in acres of space near the right sideline to put the Cats inside Maryland’s five-yard line. Just two plays later, Sullivan lined up under center and charged into the end zone for his first career rushing score. 

2. Third-down scramble from Sullivan sets up Hull score

Maryland responded to NU’s touchdown with seven points of their own before graduate student kicker Adam Stage quickly broke the tie with a field goal. The Cats’ defense forced the Terrapins into a three-and-out, handing the ball back to Sullivan.

NU’s ground attack wasted little time punishing Maryland on the ensuing drive, as Sullivan and junior running back Evan Hull helped lead the Cats into Terrapin territory.

Staring a 3rd-and-7 in the face, Sullivan scrambled for nine yards to pick up the first down. Once in the red zone, it took just three plays for NU to find the end zone.

On 3rd-and-4 at the Maryland 10-yard line, Sullivan dumped it down to Hull who scurried into the end zone for six points. Hull’s touchdown — his second receiving score this year — gave the Cats a seven-point cushion at the intermission.

3. Sullivan’s interception leads to Maryland score

On the fifth play of the Cats’ opening drive in the second half, Sullivan lined up in the shotgun on the right hash. He faked a handoff to Hull before looking left and throwing the ball towards junior tight end Thomas Gordon. The ball never reached Gordon as Maryland picked off the pass. 

Sullivan took ownership of the interception and said it was due to “misreading coverage.” Fitzgerald said NU was running a “post-wheel combo” and though the post route was open, the ball was thrown to the wheel route which was picked off. 

The benefactors of the first turnover of the game, the Terrapins capitalized on the Cats’ mistake. Running back Roman Hemby darted up the middle for an 18-yard score, his second touchdown of the day up to that point, as Maryland tied the game up at 17-17.

4. Terrapins take the lead after Heard’s holding call

Junior Luke Akers’ punt gave the Terrapins the ball back with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter. Maryland quickly converted a first down before an illegal substitution penalty and short completion left the Terrapins facing a 3rd-and-8 near midfield.

Sophomore defensive lineman Aidan Hubbard got to Edwards, sacking him for a six-yard loss. However, Hubbard’s effort was nullified by a holding penalty called on junior defensive back Rod Heard II. Heard’s mistake blessed the Terrapins with a fresh set of downs and kept the NU defense on the field.

Just five plays later, Edwards found Rakim Jarrett all alone on the left sideline as he waltzed into the end zone untouched to give Maryland its first lead of the game, 24-17. 

5. The Cats turn it over on downs in fourth quarter

Following the Terrapins’ score, NU entered the final frame searching for a response. After Sullivan’s four-yard rush on 3rd-and-8, the Cats had a decision to make on fourth down. Fitzgerald and company decided to roll the dice and kept the offense on the field needing just four yards for a first down.

The ensuing play was a disaster.

Faking a handoff to graduate student running back Andrew Clair, Sullivan rolled out right. He proceeded to throw it short of the sticks, dumping it down to senior wide receiver Donny Navarro III who was subsequently smothered six yards short of the first down marker. 

It was a baffling sequence in both play-calling and execution as NU handed Maryland phenomenal field positioning.

6. Maryland misses field goal after Firestone and Adebawore sacks

Following the Cats’ turnover on downs, the Terrapins charged into the red zone, but that’s when the drive’s wheels started to come off. 

Down all the way at NU’s five-yard line, Edwards fumbled the snap and was sacked for an eight-yard loss by freshman defensive lineman Austin Firestone. Edwards appealed for a facemask penalty which was not rewarded. On the next play, the Cats’ leader in the trenches, senior defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore, gobbled up Edwards in the backfield for a 15-yard loss.

The two plays turned a likely chip shot field goal attempt into a 46-yarder. Maryland kicker Chad Ryland, who entered the game perfect on field goals inside 49 yards, pushed the kick wide right, keeping the score intact 24-17.

7. Clair converts on third down, goes onto score game-tying touchdown


Rejuvenated by the missed field goal and in desperate need of seven points, NU pushed down the field late in the fourth quarter. 

Facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Maryland 24-yard line, Clair gained a much needed first down for the Cats on a four-yard rush. The Bowling Green transfer stayed on the field for NU, getting another carry for six yards. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian went back to Clair for a third consecutive time, and that was all the back needed.

Off the handoff from Sullivan, Clair bounced out left and ran into the end zone untouched for his first rushing touchdown of the year. His effort tied the game up, 24-24.

8. Hemby breaks loose for 75 yard score

One play, 75 yards, 12 seconds and six points for the Terrapins. 

Just as quickly as Clair’s score provided NU with a jolt of life, Hemby snatched any semblance of hope away in the blink of an eye.

Behind some fantastic blocks from his offensive line, Hemby burst up the middle of the field. Senior defensive back A.J. Hampton Jr. was in a solid position to stop the run, but his lunge at Hemby’s ankles was futile. From that point on, it was a foot race, which Hemby won as he scored the game-winning touchdown for Maryland.

“Well, it looked like they blocked everybody at the point of attack and our corner missed a tackle,” Fitzgerald said of the play. “And then it looked like he outran our entire defense. So that’s obviously unacceptable from all of us from where we fit it, what we did schematically and the way we execute the play.”

9. Sullivan’s late-game interception seals a sixth-straight defeat

Down seven with just over three minutes remaining, Sullivan and the offense were hoping for a little bit of late game magic. 

Facing a 2nd-and-10 at their own 32-yard line, Sullivan stepped up in the pocket and launched a ball deep towards Washington. The pass was just beyond the reach of Washington, but fell right into the arms of Beau Brade, who had been tracking the pass the entire way.

“I believe they gave us a two-high look,” Sullivan said. “They took away our crossfield race and I thought we had a shot at the post, but the safety made a great play. Wish we could get that one back but we can’t.”

Despite what was an inspired showing on the road against Maryland, NU has now lost six straight games and is almost two months removed from its season opening victory in Ireland. The Cats once again made “critical errors down the stretch” which has barred the team from adding a couple tallies to the win column, Fitzgerald said. NU will return to Evanston looking to correct those mistakes at practice before traveling to Iowa next weekend.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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