COLLEGE PARK -- It seems so long ago that North Carolina State coach Dick Sheridan almost could be talking about a different team in a different time.
"All our players need to know is that Maryland beat Virginia, regardless of what time of year it happened," Sheridan said.
Maryland beat Virginia? This year? The season of the dismal 2-8 record? You mean the Terps beat the team that is now ranked No. 20 in the land with a 7-2-1 record?
Maryland did indeed beat Virginia, 17-6, back on Sept. 7 in its opener. Now, battered and embattled, the Terps are about to wrap up the season with a visit to No. 22 North Carolina State (8-2) tomorrow in Raleigh.
Maryland hopes that N.C. State's 8-2 mark is slightly deceptive. Only a week ago the Wolfpack had to score 11 points in the last two minutes to edge Duke, 32-31. Although Duke handled Maryland by four points, the Blue Devils are not among the Atlantic Coast Conference's more muscular members.
"N.C. State wasn't too hot against Duke," said Maryland defensive coordinator Greg Williams. "They were lucky to win. They're not Top 10. They're not Penn State [No. 7] or Clemson [No. 14]."
It would appear the Terps will be hard-pressed to motivate themselves for the final game of a dreary season. They have been outscored in their last three games, against North Carolina, Penn State and Clemson, by 111-14.
"I'll be playing for pride, for my personal self," said senior nose guard Ralph Orta.
"Pride and respect," said junior defensive back Ron Reagan. "It's kind of difficult under the circumstances, but I keep telling myself to hang in there."
Like most Maryland seniors, running back Troy Jackson is in his fifth year here. In his view, little has changed in that time. Only last year's 6-5-1 record provided a glimmer of hope.
"We've always been the underdog," Jackson said. "I'm motivated because it's my last college game. We're sure not going to N.C. State to get our butts kicked."
Junior linebacker and leading Maryland tackler Mike Jarmolowich put it this way: "I don't want to get embarrassed. I hope everybody has that attitude and that we get the job done."
Senior place-kicker Dan DeArmas has received perhaps 10 letters in the last year or so from a woman who is a Maryland alum and whose daughter is in the band. She saw DeArmas on one knee at one point during last year's N.C. State game (which Maryland won, 13-12, on a pair of DeArmas field goals) and assumed he was praying before a kick.
"She wrote and said that when she saw me praying, she started to pray, too," DeArmas said. "She said that no matter what happens, the Lord is on my side. She has sent a lot of inspirational quotations.
"In America today, there's a feeling that when you're not winning, you're necessarily a loser. That's not the case. We're not losers."
Jim Sandwisch, the beleaguered senior quarterback, falls back on the old bromide that a team is only as good as its last game. In Maryland's circumstances, then, a win in the finale would be most welcome.
"This has been a tough season for everybody around here, especially the seniors and the coaches," Sandwisch said. "If we can go out with a win, it would be great for the seniors and give the young guys something to build on."
A year from now, Sandwisch hopes he will be able to look back on this season and realize he gleaned something from it.
"I'd like to take something from this that will make me a better person," Sandwisch said. "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'll have a great life. I mean, football is only a game."