COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There was little fanfare here in Byrd Stadium, as the Terps finally earned a marquee win over a ranked opponent and spoiled NC State’s chances at playing in the Dec. 4 Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game.
It was Senior Day in College Park. There were record-setting performances and career days by rookie quarterback Danny O'Brien and standout receiver Torrey Smith. There were plenty of reasons to celebrate.
But the real party was going on in Tallahassee.
As Maryland was pushing NC State around en route to a 38-31 win, Florida State was simultaneously dismantling its biggest rival, Florida, in a convincing 31-7 win. It was a monumental victory for the Seminoles, and it was made even bigger with NC State’s loss. Not only did Florida State knock off the Gators for the first time since 2003, it is now guaranteed a trip to the ACC championship game.
NC State tight end George Bryan said he probably won’t be watching.
“Just because I know we had a chance to be there,” he said.
That chance slipped away on Saturday along with NC State’s 14-point lead, as the Wolfpack dropped passes -- including two in the end zone -- turned it over twice, and couldn’t stop Smith, who finished with a school-record four touchdown receptions.
“We’ve come so far,” defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy said. “We were picked to be last in the ACC this year. We were right on the bridge of going to the ACC championship. It hasn’t been done in a long time in Raleigh. We were excited. We wanted it. But we didn’t get it. We’re just going to get back to work, and work for it next year.”
It was only fitting that Florida State won the Atlantic Division with a little help from Maryland, as nobody in the division has separated itself as a great team. Unlike Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech, nobody in the Atlantic Division has been consistently good enough to reach the top of the standings on its own.
With its 6-2 record in conference play in Jimbo Fisher’s first season, there was a lot for the Seminoles to be proud of, but they lost back-to-back heartbreakers to NC State and North Carolina. Maryland was two wins away from playing in the ACC championship game but lost that opportunity with its loss to Florida State last weekend.
In retrospect, the loss that did the Wolfpack in was the 14-13 loss at Clemson -- a divisional game it should have won, but instead blew a 10-0 lead and scored just 13 points in five trips to the red zone.
NC State beat itself again on Saturday.
Bryan and Owen Spencer both dropped potential touchdown passes. A pass intended for T.J. Graham bounced off of his hands and into Maryland safety Eric Franklin’s grasp. The Terps blocked a field goal, and Maryland’s offensive line gave O'Brien all day to find Smith. O'Brien was sacked just twice and threw the ball 47 times.
Still, NC State coach Tom O'Brien said this season wasn't about missed opportunities, rather it was about a successful season the program can build on.
“They felt really crushed,” he said of his players in the locker room. “I don’t think they have comprehended what a great year they really had. To come and get to this point when you look at eight wins or nine wins, when you look at our school, it hasn’t been done too many times. It’s a good start; now we can be better. I told the seniors we are going to find a way to win our ninth game.”
Unfortunately for those seniors, the ninth game won’t be a championship game.
“It’s just a tough way to end a heck of a season and what could have been a chance to keep going,” O’Brien said. “But it didn’t turn out the way we would have liked.”
It did in Tallahassee.