Last stand for Terps' Duffner? Ga. Tech may be final home game for coach

November 14, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It's a frustrated Maryland football team that will complete its home schedule at Byrd Stadium tonight (ESPN, 8 p.m.) against Georgia Tech.

There's some bile remaining from last year's trip to Atlanta, where the Terps' vision of a bowl game began to fade in a nationally televised 31-3 flop. They're perturbed about their most recent game, a 35-3 drubbing at Clemson on Nov. 2 that ended what realistic hope they had for a winning season.

They're peeved that the media is writing off the season finale against Florida State, and the speculation that this could be the final appearance at Byrd Stadium for coach Mark Duffner, whose record is 19-34 near the end of his fifth season.

"Everyone's mad," strong safety Andre Hentz said. "At the same time, there are two games to be played. You can either sit there and not do anything about it, or you can bust your butt in practice and do what we're capable of doing.

"It's human inclination to seek revenge. We were definitely embarrassed by Georgia Tech [last year]. They took our pride. Georgia Tech was the turning point last year, and it was not a turning point for the better."

The focus will be on Duffner tonight -- instead of on Hentz and 20 other seniors who will be playing their final home game -- in part because of the collapse that began last Sept. 28 at Georgia Tech.

The Terps were 4-0 and ranked No. 17. Ratcliff Thomas remembers the bus ride to Bobby Dodd Stadium, when he pondered aloud Maryland's postseason bowl prospects.

Instead of continuing the program's best start since 1978, however, the Terps blew two chances at touchdowns when the game was in the balance. A quarterback controversy -- Scott Milanovich or Brian Cummings? -- began, and since that fateful trip to Atlanta, Maryland is 6-10.

The Yellow Jackets (5-3, 4-3) are playing for a bowl berth, while the Terps (4-5, 2-4) are searching for some offensive equilibrium. That unit has been off-balance and riddled by injury all year.

Left guard Pat Ward, whom Duffner calls "our most aggressive lineman," sustained a season-ending broken leg in a 34-8 loss to N.C. State on Oct. 5. Junior Buddy Rodgers, the team's best running back, will not play because of a thigh injury.

Cummings will play, and show the way along with the seniors, who include six starters on offense, six on defense and kicker Joe O'Donnell. They were integral to last year's winning record -- only the second at Maryland since 1985 -- but they expected more then and now.

"We're going to lead better than we have in the past," said wide receiver Geroy Simon, when asked if the seniors had planned anything different this week.

Simon and cornerback A.J. Johnson were late qualifiers academically and arrived with little fanfare, but the former needs 13 catches to tie Jermaine Lewis' ACC record for career catches (193), and the latter has been a four-year starter. Thomas, Maryland's No. 3 all-time tackler, is probably the only senior who's made a bigger impact.

The success stories include defensive end Al Wallace, who bulked up physically and academically. Hentz and Chad Scott transferred from lower levels and bolstered the secondary. Craig Fitzgerald, a walk-on from Philadelphia, practiced wherever Duffner asked. He finally got a scholarship this year, and is the starter at tight end.

The seniors came in with varying degrees of expectation, and take as many different perspectives into their final home game.

"I want these two games as much for him [Duffner] as for myself," Fitzgerald said.

Erik Greenstein, a three-year starter at center, said, "There's a lot rTC of frustration, but you've got to remember that the season is not over yet. You can't settle for a 4-7 record. We can still have a winning record. Stranger things have happened."

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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