Terps kick up heels in opener, 23-7

Friedgen era blasts off with first ACC victory in opener since 1991

UM's conditioning wilts N.C.

Defensive tenacity, Perry's 116 yards bring song from new coach

September 02, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- They gave up a demoralizing touchdown run before many fans had taken a seat, then spent three quarters trying to piece together a messy offense.

But by the end of yesterday's emotional season-opening 23-7 victory over North Carolina, the Maryland Terrapins had ushered in a new era with some signs not seen in recent years around here.

From the moment he took his first head coaching job at his old school late last fall, Terps coach Ralph Friedgen promised to set a tone defined by things like discipline, perseverance, conditioning. Maryland was far from beautiful in front of 44,080 at Byrd Stadium, but the Terps' tenacity was a thing of beauty, especially when the game was up for grabs.

Clinging to a 9-7 lead after three quarters, which they established behind a stout defense and the superb punting of All-America candidate Brooks Barnard, the Terps, led by emerging tailback Bruce Perry, converted two turnovers into touchdowns to pull away from a Tar Heels team that wilted badly in the hot sun.

It marked the first time since 1991 that Maryland has opened its season with a victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, and it made Friedgen the first Terps coach ever to win his ACC opener in his coaching debut. Once North Carolina officially was cooked, Friedgen led the entire team toward the student section, where Friedgen led everyone in a rendition of the school fight song.

After one winning afternoon, the Terps could be poised to make a serious run at their first winning season since 1995 and their first bowl game bid in 11 seasons.

"We've all put in so much hard work, and the payoff was that W," said junior linebacker E.J. Henderson, who led an outstanding defense with 10 tackles. "It's a weight off our shoulders. Now, we have to take it week by week."

"I felt like the kids responded to me," said Friedgen, who was near tears after the game. "I've been hard on them. I've pushed them, and today they can see why. This was special. But hopefully, it's one of many."

Maryland didn't whip Carolina (0-2) as much as it wore down the lesser-conditioned Tar Heels by winning a field position battle decisively and failing to commit a turnover.

The Terps figured they had a defense tough enough to contain Carolina. After giving up a 77-yard scoring run to tailback Willie Parker on Carolina's first play from scrimmage, they were right. Maryland recorded four sacks -- three by senior linebacker Aaron Thompson -- and took a lead they would never relinquish when safety Tyrone Stewart tackled Parker for a safety and a 9-7 lead with 11:43 left in the first half.

The Tar Heels, who managed only 199 yards and nine first downs after that, got poor production from starting quarterback Ronald Curry. He never directed them deeper than the Maryland 38 after Parker's score. Carolina coach John Bunting replaced him with Darian Durant with 6:04 left in the third period. Durant eventually would throw two of the Tar Heels' three interceptions.

"We've seen on film that if you get somebody in [Curry's] face, he might get shaken up a little bit and throw a crazy pass. We tried to keep somebody in his face," Henderson said.

The Terps went through some painful moments on offense early. Their left tackle tandem of C.J. Brooks and Eric Dumas had much trouble with right defensive end Julius Peppers, who recorded three sacks. Quarterback Shaun Hill (10-for-26, 86 yards) struggled often with his accuracy, although he was good enough to connect with Jafar Williams and Scooter Monroe for touchdown passes.

His 20-yard connection with Williams evened the score at 7 with 6:33 left in the first quarter. His 5-yard pass to Monroe capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive that Maryland safety Tony Jackson created with an interception. When Monroe beat safety Dexter Reid, the Terps had a 16-7 lead with 13:19 left in the contest.

On the Tar Heels' next series, Durant's pass was tipped by cornerback Curome Cox and picked off by rush end Mike Whaley. The Terps then put away Carolina with a 54-yard touchdown drive, capped by Marc Riley's 1-yard TD run.

The Terps found an undisputed leader of their so-called running back by committee in the form of the 5-9, 190-pound Perry. He pounded the Tar Heels early for tough yards, then broke off some big runs in the second half en route to a career-high, 116-yard day. He began Maryland's final scoring drive with two carries for 33 yards.

Not bad for a guy who thought he was in Friedgen's doghouse.

"You've got to be a hard-nosed running back at this level. I had to step it up and show that I could make plays," Perry said. "I have no problem with a running back by committee [including Jason Crawford and Riley]. We have a lot of versatility in our group."

And the Terps have Barnard, who was their ace in the hole yesterday by averaging an astounding 50.4 yards on eight punts. Seven of those punts forced the Tar Heels to begin drives inside their 25.

"He kept us pinned down. We never really had good field position," Bunting said. "We just couldn't punch it out and get some breathing room."

By the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels were breathing heavily, and Maryland was putting together a final push that Carolina could not stop.

"I sensed we had a silent confidence during warm-ups," Friedgen said. "The difference in field position, especially when we were struggling on offense, was really huge. In the end, we decided to run it more by knocking them off the ball.

"I asked the guys are you going to fall or are you going to fight through this? You're tired, you're hurting, do you want to win or what? They didn't surprise me. They pleasantly pleased me, the way they hung in there."

Next for Terps

Opponent: Eastern Michigan

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Record: 1-0

Yesterday: Beat Southeast Missouri State, 16-12

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