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Notebook: Brotherhood pushes Rutgers to huge victory

It was beginning to look like things were unraveling for the Rutgers football team in the third quarter of its game against Maryland on Saturday.

The Terrapins went 90 yards down the field to take a 21-17 lead, and the Scarlet Knight offense looked like it was stalling. Then with 9:44 left in the quarter, with Rutgers set to get the ball back, junior cornerback Isaiah Wharton let a Maryland punt hit him in the leg, leading to a turnover and giving the Terps the ball with the lead.

Continuing with the trend of a new culture this season, Wharton noted that last year people would likely be pointing fingers and feeling dejected. This was not the case.

"When that play happened, I came to the sideline, and I felt so lifted up by my teammates," Wharton said.

On the ensuing drive, the Terrapins had a 4th-and-1 and decided to go for it at the Knights 21-yard line. There was movement on the line before the snap and the referees called an offsides penalty on Rutgers, giving Maryland a first down. On replay, it was clear as day that the Terps' tight end moved first and it could have turned out to be a call that cost the Knights the game.

Instead, the defense buckled down and forced Maryland to kick a field goal and keep it a one-possession game. 

In a back-and-forth game like the one played Saturday, it is very easy for calls like that to deflate a team. With the stadium as loud as it had been all day due to the amount of booing, Rutgers made a stand and saved the game.

Head coach Chris Ash was honest after the game, as he doubted his team's ability to overcome something like that earlier in the year.

"That was a big call. The good thing is, though, it didn't go our way, but our players responded, held them to the field goal," he said. "And obviously, we give up a touchdown there, and it's going to look a little bleak. The outcome might be a little bit different."

That moment on Saturday evening, spanning just over five minutes in game time, was the biggest test to date of the Knights' mental fortitude. But the culture change spearheaded by Ash proved valuable, as Rutgers would not allow a single point for the rest of the game, scoring 14 unanswered to propel themselves to the 31-24 win.

And with Maryland driving down the field late in the fourth quarter on a potential game-tying drive, it would all come down to one play — a 4th-and-10 at the Knights' 15-yard line. The Terrapin backup quarterback Ryan Brand came in and gave the offense some life but needed to make one more play to give his team a shot to win. 

He lofted the ball up into the back of the end zone for wide receiver DJ Moore — arguably the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. But the pass was knocked away by none other than Wharton, writing the closing chapter on a tremendous redemption for the third-year starter.

"(Wharton said he) knew the team was different cause guys were super positive, guys were lifting him up, keeping him up, they were there for him," said senior guard Dorian Miller, of Wharton's ability to bounce back at the end of the game. "That's just a credit to this team and the change and the buy-in that these guys have."

Wharton, who was picked on heavily on that final drive, finally made a play on a jump ball, something he has struggled to do in his three years on the Banks.

But with the brotherhood of this Rutgers team behind him, he was able to dig deep and make one more play for his team.

“No matter what the record is or what the score is, we just love each other and that’s honestly what it comes down to," Wharton said. "We play really hard for each other, and it’s been showing.” 

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

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