COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) When he was done setting a single-game Big Ten record for punt return yardage, William Likely couldn’t determine what was more surprising: that the mark had stood for 76 years, or that Richmond kept kicking the ball to him.
Likely returned eight punts for 233 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Ross rushed for a career-high 150 yards and Maryland rolled to a season-opening 50-21 victory Saturday.
Perry Hills threw two touchdown passes for the Terrapins, who scored 37 straight points after falling behind 14-13 in the second quarter.
By halftime, Likely had 64 yards on three punt returns. Because the Spiders had so much difficulty tackling him, the 5-foot-7 junior figured he might not get another chance to run one back.
”After the third one, I was like, `I probably won’t get that many opportunities”’ Likely said. ”Then he kept kicking it, so I said, `OK.”’
Richmond punter D.J. Helkowski was instructed to keep the ball away from Likely, but couldn’t pull it off.
”I love D.J., but for the last three punts I told him to put it out of bounds,” Spiders coach Danny Rocco said. ”It didn’t get out of bounds. I guess we just have to practice (it) a little more.”
By the time Likely was done, he broke the conference record for punt return yardage in a game set in 1939 by Nile Kinnick, who won the Heisman Trophy that year with Iowa.
”That’s a long time,” Likely said with a grin. ”To be able to break somebody’s record that had been standing for that long and hadn’t been broken, that’s a blessing.”
His runbacks included a 67-yarder for a touchdown that made it 43-14 with 10:30 remaining and a 47-yarder to the Richmond 16.
Likely also had two kickoff returns for 63 yards, giving him 296 yards in kick returns for the afternoon.
”I don’t know if there are enough superlatives to use in regard to Will Likely,” said coach Randy Edsall, who improved to 5-0 in openers during his tenure at Maryland. ”He’s a weapon back there,”
Ross averaged 8.3 yards per carry and put Maryland up 29-14 with a 21-yard TD run early in the third quarter. He eclipsed his previous career high of 149 yards before the quarter ended.
Making his first start since 2012, Hills completed 12 of 21 passes for 138 yards and an interception. The junior wasn’t exceptionally sharp, but he didn’t have to be because the Terrapins totaled 341 yards on the ground.
”I have to make sure not aim the ball as much as I did and just throw the ball like I know how to do,” Hills said.
Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta went 18 for 30 for 220 yards. The Spiders mustered only 56 yards rushing, and Lauletta was sacked four times.
”We were hoping for a little more consistency there with our offensive production,” Rocco said.
After Maryland took a quick 10-0 lead, Richmond went ahead 14-13 on a 4-yard run by Lauletta with 10:35 left in the second quarter.
Hills then directed a 12-play drive that produced a field goal by Brad Craddock, and a 37-yard touchdown catch by Malcolm Culmer made it 22-14 at halftime.
Ross scored the only touchdown of the third quarter, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Wes Brown made it 36-14.
Maryland then forced a punt, and Likely weaved his way through the Richmond defense before getting to the left sideline and diving into the end zone.
”I definitely wanted it bad,” Likely said. ”We just made something happen.”
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org