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Rutgers finishes disappointing season with 31-13 loss to Maryland

Fifth-year senior captains Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Chris Muller tearfully walk off the field at Byrd Stadium Saturday following a 31-13 loss to Maryland in what was the final games of their careers at Rutgers. The Knights finished the season winless in the Big Ten and with an overall record of 2-10. – Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It couldn’t have ended any other way.

The Rutgers football team completed its season Saturday against Maryland in a matchup in which no lead has been safe. In their first meeting as members of the Big Ten in 2014, the Scarlet Knights came back from a program-record, 25-point deficit at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. 

A year later, the Terrapins returned the favor, storming back from 21 down to defeat Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway to kill the Knights slim hopes of reaching a bowl.

Saturday, the teams met back at Byrd Stadium in reverse circumstances — Maryland needed a win to earn a bowl win and Rutgers, seeking its first Big Ten win of the year, had a chance to play spoiler.

But the third game of the newest Big Ten rivalry proved to be the outlier, with the Knights falling behind first as they have every other game this season and failing to recover as the Terrapins handed their visitors a 31-13 loss to put an end to a nightmare year in Piscataway.

"We didn't make some plays that were out there," said head coach Chris Ash. "We have to find a way to get that done. We have to improve in a lot of areas ... there are a lot of things we need to get better at, and we will."

For a moment, it looked like history was bound to repeat itself. 

Down 21-7 to start the second half, Rutgers was moving the ball downfield fairly easily, a change of pace from the disappointing offensive displays it had against Michigan State and No. 8 Penn State in the past couple of weeks.

The first drive was promising, with sophomore quarterback Giovanni Rescigno earning a pair of first downs with both his feet and his arm in what was his best six-play stretch since the first quarter of his first career start against Minnesota last month. But it would be the third series of the second half that would raise memories of 2014.

Senior running back Justin Goodwin made up for his error on the first drive, where he fumbled the ball immediately upon making a 30-yard reception inside the Maryland 6, with a 28-yard touchdown run in which he beat a Terrapin defender with a nifty spin move.

Spin move alert. Really nice spin move alert.

Justin Goodwin goes circle button on this @RFootball TD.

— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 26, 2016

Though junior placekicker David Bonagura saw his extra point attempt get blocked, the touchdown brought the Knights’ deficit to a single score.

“We knew we had to make plays to come back,” Goodwin said. “We were starting to make some plays at the end and then we came up short.”

Playing in his final game for Rutgers, Goodwin put in one of the best performances of his career in the third quarter, with 109 of his 126 total yards coming in the frame. 

But it wouldn’t be enough, with Maryland answering right back with its fourth and final touchdown on the subsequent drive to bring its lead back to two-scores at 28-13.

Andrew Stefanelli, a walk-on fullback taking his first career snap, became the fourth Terp to score a touchdown and the third to do it on the ground when he punched the ball into the endzone from the 1-yard line. 

Maryland added itself to the long list of teams who dominated the Knights in the run game with 318 yards rushing, a bulldozing that started early. It took Maryland all of 47 seconds to get on the board, completing a two-play drive with a 46-yard rushing touchdown from Kenneth Goins.

That was fast!

Kenneth Goins Jr. breaks free for the 46-yard @TerpsFootball TD.

— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 26, 2016

The Terrapins would double their lead midway through the first quarter on their third drive, with Teldrick Morgan returning junior Michael Cintron’s second punt of the day and 91st of the year 83 yards to the house.

Morgan shed an initial tackle from Anthony Cioffi to begin the return, though it was one the senior strong safety is expected to make. It was yet another example of Rutgers’ season-long struggle with completing tackles and preventing big plays.

Another Saturday, another must-see @TerpsFootball highlight.@TeldrickM takes it to the house!

— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 26, 2016

It was the first of a series of blunders on special teams, a unit that also missed a field goal and an extra-point attempt on the afternoon.

"It's been hurting us all season, not just today," Ash said of his special team's play. "We have to get that part of our game improved. Special teams are really important. You need to be good at special teams to have a chance to win, regardless of the level. Our special teams weren't very good this year."

The Knights picked up some momentum to begin the second quarter, taking advantage of a few Maryland slip-ups to cut their deficit in half. 

Rutgers turned a missed 46-yard field goal attempt from the Terps into a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, but it didn’t come without any help. The Knights were handed a second chance when the Terps jumped offside on 4th-and-3 to turn what would be Cintron’s fourth punt of the day into a first down.

From there, Rutgers entered Maryland territory for the first time all day with a 20-yard completion from Rescigno to redshirt freshman Jawuan Harris and continued the march with a 14-yard completion to senior wide receiver Carlton Agudosi to convert a 4th-and-9 and enter the redzone.

The running backs took over from there, with Goodwin gaining the first 8 of the final 14 yards on 2 carries and junior Robert Martin chewing up the final 6 to end a scoreless streak of nine quarters.

"We found our spots," Rescigno said of how the Knights found some success on offense. "We got into a little rhythm."

The nine quarter drought isn't even the longest of the season for Rutgers, which went 11 quarters without factoring a point in games against No. 2 Ohio StateNo. 3 Michigan and the first three quarters against Illinois earlier in the season.

The statistic serves as a reminder of just how bad the Knights have been in Ash's first season at the helm in Piscataway, and Saturday's loss shows how much better it could've been.

Maryland began the season in a similar situation as Rutgers — beginning a rebuild of the program with a first-year head coach and a team coming off a year without a bowl game — but it ended it with a bowl birth and a .500 record.

Meanwhile, the Knights finished the season without a conference win, losing its final nine games by a combined score of 360-86. It came away with a Big Ten single-season record in punts, with sophomore Michael Cintron booting 93 of them, seven more than the previous highmark.

Rutgers was held scoreless on four separate occasions for the first time since 1936 and finished with double-digit losses for the first time since 2002.

For 17 Knights, Saturday was their last day of their last season representing Rutgers. For those staying, who have the opportunity to build on the foundation they laid, it's a tough pill to swallow.

“It's unfortunate that we couldn't get them the win to end their careers here," Rescigno said. "I'm very close with a lot of the guys, a lot of the seniors that are leaving and it hurts to see them come off the field with tears in their eyes."

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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