COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland’s best moments on Saturday came when its 17 seniors lined up on the Byrd Stadium turf to be honored before their final home game. There were hugs, handshakes and tears as the players and their relatives were presented with framed jerseys and bouquets of flowers.
Then, unfortunately for Maryland, the game began. Coach Randy Edsall had said the Terps needed to play “a perfect game” to upset No. 10 Florida State, but — except for a perfectly blue sky — it was another painfully flawed day for a Terps team that quickly did what it could least afford: turn the ball over.
Maryland fumbled the first and third times it got the ball — miscues that accelerated its demise in a 41-14 loss to the Seminoles, who clinched a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
“We go down 7-0 and then we fumble the ball and the next thing you know it’s 14 and we fumble the ball again and it’s 17,” Edsall said. “To put yourself in that hole, it’s very tough to come back from.”
It was injury-plagued Maryland’s fifth straight loss, and it officially eliminated the Terps from bowl eligibility with one game remaining. Maryland (4-7, 2-5 ACC) has been defeated by at least 20 points in its last three games. Each of those three were started by freshman Shawn Petty (8-for-19, 136 yards, two touchdowns), a linebacker pressed into service at quarterback by injuries to the four previous signal callers.
“They really get off the ball fast,” said Petty, who was sacked five times. “I was holding the ball too long.”
It was quickly evident that Maryland, which has lost nine players to season-ending injuries, was overmatched. Florida State (10-1, 7-1 ACC) held the ball for 11 plays and 5:44 on its opening possession, taking a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard run by Devonta Freeman (16 carries, 148 yards, two touchdowns).
“We wanted to come in here and get a defining drive early in the game. That was it for us,” said Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, who completed 17-for-23 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Maryland’s Levern Jacobs fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Seminoles possession at the 10. On the next play, Nick O’Leary hauled in a touchdown pass. The scoring plays came 12 seconds apart, giving the Seminoles a 14-0 lead.
Another Maryland fumble led to a 26-yard field goal by Florida State senior Dustin Hopkins, making it 17-0. With 442 career points, Hopkins became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer among kickers.
There was a smattering of boos before halftime from a small minority of the announced 35,244 fans. In his postgame remarks, Edsall, who is in the second year of a six-year contract, counseled patience.
“It takes some time to build a football program, but all these young guys are getting experience and are going to be so much better and stronger next year due to all the adversity this year,” he said.
Many fans wore black to mark a team-coordinated “blackout game.” The team wore new “Black Ops” uniforms — black from head to toe.
The Maryland seniors did have their moments. In the first quarter, fifth-year linebacker Kenneth Tate sacked Manuel on consecutive plays. Tate later recorded a third sack to complete his best game of the season.
Senior receiver Kevin Dorsey also had his best game of the year, catching both touchdown passes from Petty, covering 33 and 42 yards.
After appearing with his family before the game, Dorsey said it was hard to transition back to football.
“For some reason, I flashed back to little league, high school,” he said. “It’s a lot of emotions that go into it and then you’ve got to flip that switch and play football.”
Maryland — which had to scale down its playbook to accommodate a linebacker playing quarterback — had just 10 first downs and 170 yards against a Florida State defense that entered the day ranked first in the nation, allowing 242.9 yards per game.
The Seminoles were surrendering an average of 74.3 rushing yards per game. Maryland, without leading rusher Wes Brown (ankle, torn labrum in shoulder), rushed for 34 yards on 34 carries.