Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen celebrates with his players after Maryland's 51-20 win over East Carolina in the Military Bowl. EVAN VUCCI - AP
WASHINGTON – An up-and-down season for East Carolina ended on a down note Wednesday, the Pirates falling to an irrepressible Maryland team in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium.
In their backyard, cheered on by their local fans, the Terrapins unleashed their offensive arsenal and pulled out a commanding 51-20 victory for their beleaguered head coach, Ralph Friedgen, who claimed a win in his final game as coach of that program. After 10 seasons, and after he won the 2010 ACC coach of the year award, the school has decided to buy out the final year of his contract.
With heavy hearts, the Terps (9-4) played for their coach, summoning an overpowering offense that befuddled the Pirates. The Terps collected 478 total yards and turned in dynamic play after dynamic play.
A 91-yard run by senior tailback Da’Rel Scott to start the fourth quarter handed the Terps a 44-13 lead and ended any hopes of an ECU rally. That play, devastating and scintillating, sent the Pirates home with a disappointing loss in first-year coach Ruffin McNeill’s first bowl game.
It was a frustrating day for the Pirates, who never found offensive cohesion, committed costly turnovers and drew hurtful penalties, not to mention struggled to handle Maryland’s physical style.
The Pirates end the season with losses in five of their past six games, closing the season on what can be called a mixed year that featured highs such as an overtime victory over N.C. State and lows such as an overtime loss to SMU.
Ruffin, who replaced Skip Holtz after he left for South Florida, installed new offensive and defensive systems. His offense compiled gaudy numbers and flourished behind junior transfer quarterback Dominique Davis and senior wideout Dwayne Harris, while his defense – as Wednesday’s game showed – stumbled with the loss of key departures and injuries.
With the Pirates’ offense unglued, finding none of the firepower that led to a scoring average of 38.2 points per game, there was no place to hide against the Terps.
The Terps opened the second half with an interception and capitalized on it with a score, continuing to force the Pirates into mistakes and make them pay.
ECU's Davis threw his second interception of the game minutes into the start of the third quarter, tossing a pass behind Harris. That pass was picked off by Maryland freshman linebacker David Mackall, who raced toward his end zone and set up a 2-yard touchdown run by D.J. Adams.
Plagued by a hapless first half, Harris – the Conference USA most valuable player – asserted himself on the game midway through the third quarter with an explosive punt return. He returned a short kick to the Pirates' 15-yard.
That play led to the Pirates' first touchdown of the game, a 15-yard pass from Davis to Lance Lewis, who caught a high-lofted pass near the left pylon and quickly slipped his feet into the end zone.
Still, the third quarter – and game – were marked by the rumbling Maryland offense, which responded with a 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive that whittled 5:13 off the clock and mixed hard running and timing routes.
Later, after an ECU field goal, the Terps' offensive line cleared what may have been the widest lane the game and Scott used it on the way to a 61-yard touchdown score.
Taking a handoff in the backfield, burst through the hole paved in the middle of the line and outraced chasing linebackers and avoided safety help. The Terps entered the fourth quarter well-placed to win.
The Terps powered to a first-half lead, establishing themselves as the dominate passing and running team, gaining 201 total yards. A yard-shredding drive late in the second quarter showcased their offensive mettle, as they pounded the Pirates' defense.
Turning from air to ground in the second quarter, the Terps moved the ball 66-yards in six plays over 3 minutes, 5 seconds, feeding their tailbacks. Senior back Da'Rel Scott turned a handoff inside up field for a 44-yard gain. Fellow tailback D.J. Adams finished the job with a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Pirates struggled offensively – with usually reliable offensive weapons Davis and Harris off their games – and only mustered three points after a 37-yard field goal by Michael Barbour.
Two turnovers hurt the Pirates in the first half, while the Terrapins mixed blitzs with physical zone coverage.
Davis completed 18 of 25 passes for 103 yards, while Harris pulled in 4 passes for 49 yards.
ECU's defense, which has surrendered yards at an amazing rate this season, held firm in the first half despite Maryland's lead. The Terps converted just three of seven first downs.
Maryland, on the first drive of the game, tried a deep pass from freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien. It was picked off by ECU cornerback Emanuel Davis.
On their first drive, the Pirates moved the chains, but found themselves in a fourth-and-1 situation on their 49 yardline. They went for it and were denied.
A short field gave Maryland the perfect opportunity to find the endzone and the Terrapins proceeded in attacking from the air.
O'Brien, with plenty of time in the pocket, dropped back and hit sophomore wideout Kevin Dorsey near the right sideline. He caught the pass in stride and accelerated 10 yards into the endzone for the touchdown, finishing the 45-yard play.
The Terrapins took a 6-0 lead but could not convert the extra point, which was blocked by the Pirates.
O'Brien completed 7 of 14 passes in the first half for 103 passing yards.
Later, Davis threw an interception at Maryland's 43 yardline, deflating the momentum the Pirates had started to develop. His pass hit the hands of Terps' free safety Eric Franklin in the middle of the field, though no ECU receivers were in the vicinity of the throw.
The Pirates would falter again when Harris fumbled on the team's 26 yardline after pulling in a catch on a quick slant.
These teams were meeting for the first time.