COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The biggest mistake the Maryland football team made at the end of Boston College’s 29-26 victory Saturday wasn’t that the Big Ten-bound Terrapins squandered an 11-point lead with 10:52 to go.
No, the most pivotal miscue occurred when Maryland coach Randy Edsall tried to ice a guy named Freese.
“Mr. Freese,’’ corrected BC senior running back Andre Williams, who rushed 32 times for 263 yards, becoming the first player in program history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He has 2,073 yards and 16 TDs on the year.
“Mr. Freese, he’s awesome,’’ Williams said. “He’s always spot on.’’
“He’s Ice Cold Freese,’’ said senior defensive end Kasim Edebali, the ringleader of a defense that rang up four sacks and forced a critical fumble.
With the game tied at 26 and with two seconds left, BC senior kicker Nate Freese appeared to miss his first field goal of the season, a 52-yard attempt that sailed just wide left. But Edsall called a timeout, giving Freese a reprieve.
“Obviously, I shouldn’t have taken the timeout,’’ Edsall said. “It’s just one of those things you feel you’re doing something to put a little more doubt in the guy’s head.’’
“I didn’t know what to think on the first one,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio. “When I saw they called time out and he missed it, I said to myself, ‘He’s going to get this one.’ He’s a real confident guy.’’
Given a second chance, Freese knocked through a 52-yarder that tied his career-long attempt as time expired, stunning a Byrd Stadium crowd of 32,147 and ending a wild-and-woolly, back-and-forth affair.
After he gave his kicker a few words of encouragement (“You’ve got plenty of leg to make it’’) and before he received the snap from Leonard Skubal, holder Mike Marscovetra stole one last glance at Freese, just to gauge his temperament.
“I saw confidence on the second one,’’ Marscovetra said. “It was like, ‘All right, I got that one out of my system and now I know I’m going to nail it.’
“I looked at him right before the snap, and I could just tell on his face that he was going to make it.’’
Somewhere in Greensboro, N.C., officials at Atlantic Coast Conference headquarters were probably doing a jig when Freese ruined Maryland’s final home game as an ACC member. With seven wins, the Eagles (7-4, 4-3) are guaranteed a bowl berth and a winning record for the first time since going 7-6 in 2010.
Next Saturday at Syracuse, BC will shoot for its eighth win, a total not reached since the 2009 team went 8-5.
“It was an exciting game,’’ said Freese, whose chance at redemption enabled him to remain perfect (17 for 17) on field goals this season.
Freese also converted a 22-yarder in the first quarter to give BC a 3-0 lead, and a 19-yarder in the third quarter that pulled BC within 17-13 after Maryland (6-5, 2-5) broke a 10-10 halftime tie on C.J. Brown’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Amba Etta-Tawo with 11:18 left in the third.
“Everyone kept telling me, ‘It’s coming down to you in the end,’ and I’m glad we got a shot,’’ Freese said.
Freese’s wild day seemed to mirror that of his team. He was left to convert a 35-yard PAT following Williams’s 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter — the play that put the senior over 200 yards for the game and 2,000 for the season — when BC was flagged for offensive pass interference on the 2-point conversion.
Then, after Alex Amidon hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass from Rettig (6 of 14, 120 yards) to give the Eagles a 26-24 lead, Marcus Whitfield blocked Freese’s PAT. Anthony Nixon caught it and returned it some 98 yards for 2 points that tied the game with 5:02 to go.
“It was wild, it was back and forth, it was high emotions,’’ said Amidon, who made a pair of catches for 83 yards. “But that’s the strength of this team. That kind of stuff doesn’t faze us.’’
Trailing, 17-10, the Eagles mounted a 14-play, 73-yard drive. BC converted three consecutive third-down attempts, on a 2-yard run by Williams from the BC 34, a 4-yard grab by Dan Crimmins from the BC 42, and a nifty play-action toss from Rettig to tight end Mike Naples for a 19-yard gain to the Maryland 26.
“I’ve been telling everybody for a long time that Chase has been extremely unselfish and resilient,’’ Addazio said. “I know he was disappointed early, but he showed great leadership and toughness. He made a couple of big throws that were really critical for us.’’
Williams ran for 23 yards on first down. The Eagles, however, were stopped at the 2 and settled for Freese’s 19-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 17-13 with 1:09 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, a fumbled punt return by Bryce Jones gave the Terrapins possession at the BC 33. It took Maryland six plays to cover the distance, Brown scoring from the 3 on third and goal for a 24-13 lead with 10:52 to go.
Williams, who was playing with a banged-up right shoulder, went off right tackle on BC’s next play for a 72-yard TD. It was his second scoring run, following a 6-yarder in the second quarter that was set up by Manny Asprilla’s blocked punt and Matt Milano’s recovery.
“Andre told me during the game he was going to put the team on his back,’’ marveled senior right tackle Ian White. “He’d play with a broken leg, he’d play with anything, he was going to put us on his back. And when you hear your running back say that, the whole offensive line just looks at each other like, ‘Today’s the day, man. Today’s the day we’re going to grind it out.’ And it wasn’t pretty, it was not pretty at all.
“Every week someone makes up a new defense to try and stop our run game and we just grind them in the fourth quarter.”
After the Eagles pulled within 24-20, William Likely’s 50-yard kickoff return gave the Terrapins possession at midfield. Maryland marched to the BC 11 in four plays, but Jacquille Veii was stripped of the ball at the 8.
Steven Daniels recovered for the Eagles, and Rettig connected with Amidon on the go-ahead, 74-yard touchdown pass. The returned PAT quickly pulled Maryland even.
BC’s defense forced Maryland to punt from its 38, and the Eagles took over at their 20 with 1:32 remaining.
Williams had left BC’s previous series because of his shoulder, but came back and ripped off a huge 36-yard run to the Maryland 37, setting the stage for Freese’s heroics.
“I have faith in players that are together and that prepare hard and believe in each other,’’ said Addazio, who had to be convinced by offensive coordinator Ryan Day that the best course was to play for a game-winning kick and not overtime. “Let’s let our best players go win it at the end. That’s our strength.
“And Nate Freese is one of our strengths.’’
Edsall’s miscalculation was that he figured Freese would fold under the pressure. What he failed to realize, though, was that you don’t give a champion a second chance.
“That was their mistake, huh?’’ Amidon said, smiling. “Giving him a second chance.’’