UM goes OT, tames Tech

Novak field goals, OT fumble recovery stun Jackets, 20-17

Terps improve to 6-0

No. 22 UM ends string of 33 straight losses to ranked teams

October 12, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Ralph Friedgen joked. Rich Parson and receiver Guilian Gary held hands. E.J. Henderson prayed. Even Nick Novak was preoccupied as he made the game-tying field goal.

"I kept my head down and waited for the crowd to make some sort of reaction," said Novak of his career-long, 46-yard field goal to tie the game on the last play of regulation.

Novak's kick set up a wild finish, ending on a fumble recovery in overtime, as No. 22 Maryland stunned No. 15 Georgia Tech, 20-17, last night at Bobby Dodd Stadium to remain unbeaten for first-year head coach Friedgen.

The Terps clinched a winning season, became bowl eligible, and broke a string of 33 straight losses to ranked teams.

On the first possession of overtime, Novak hit a 26-yarder give the Terps (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) the lead for good.

After Novak's field goal, Georgia Tech (4-2, 1-2) took possession, but tailback Joe Burns fumbled and Maryland safety Randall Jones recovered to end the game and keep Maryland unbeaten.

"I was coming up to make the tackle, and I saw the ball pop off him," Jones said. "I just dove on it."

"It's unexplainable. Usually when you talk to me and I haven't played too well, I'm not too happy," said quarterback Shaun Hill, who was 20-for-39 for 206 yards with two interceptions. "Tonight, you can't take the smile off my face."

The shootout between the first- and third-ranked offenses in the ACC turned into a slugfest in which the teams combined for eight turnovers and 16 penalties.

"We made a lot of mistakes, and we didn't make plays when we had some opportunities," Friedgen said. "But again, we found a way to win, and we beat a good football team when we weren't playing our best."

Maryland jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but Georgia Tech rallied, and when Luke Manget kicked a 39-yard field goal with 6:33 left in the game, it gave the Yellow Jackets a 17-14 lead.

That, of course was turned on its head when the Terps drove 51 yards in 1:18, allowing Novak to take center stage, only two weeks after he had struggled to make extra points during a 32-20 win over West Virginia.

"It was a huge kick," Novak said. "I knew I had to make it ... I prepare myself for that."

In a game pitting two of the top three offenses in the league, neither looked stellar moving the ball. But for the longest time, the Terps' defense - one of the league's worst last season - hindered a Yellow Jackets offense that came into the game averaging 40 points.

What's more, the Maryland unit, led by defensive coordinator Gary Blackney, did so without shedding any of the blitzing tactics that had played a major role in its success before last night.

The first big play came on the sixth snap of the game, when linebacker Henderson picked up a Burns fumble and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown with 12:47 left in the first quarter, giving the Terps a 7-0 lead.

The next big play came just after the start of the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets - struggling on the ground with 26 first-half yards on 24 carries - took to the air, and quarterback George Godsey's pass was intercepted by Jones at the Maryland 32.

At that point in the game, the Terps hadn't done well at capitalizing on their opportunities, like when they got the ball at midfield only to get bogged down with penalties before failing on a fake field-goal attempt.

But after Jones' interception, Maryland went 68 yards on nine plays, getting to the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run by receiver Jafar Williams. On what looked like an option right with the pitch headed for running back Parson, Hill instead flipped the ball to Williams, who found no defenders as Maryland took a 14-0 lead with 6:13 left in the first half.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets wandered in search of a break, which Maryland wouldn't allow. Godsey escaped a sure Leon Joe sack and appeared to have Kerry Watkins open deep, only to have Tony Okanlawon pick off the pass at the Maryland 6.

Georgia Tech, benefiting from Maryland's field position after that interception, got the ball back at the Terps' 29 with 2:56 remaining after Kelly Rhino returned a Brooks Barnard punt 22 yards. Georgia Tech moved the ball to the Maryland 6. Kelly Campbell caught a pass beyond the goal line but was out of bounds.

Then Henderson sacked Godsey, a play followed by a false start and an encroachment call that left Tech with a field-goal attempt as the only option. But Manget's kick from 37 yards missed as time ran out in the first half.

Every piece of magic that the Terps used to their advantage in the first half disappeared in the second half.

After an interception and a fumble in the first four minutes, Georgia Tech pulled it together for the next 19 minutes, regaining the support of most of the 40,574 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Leaning on the pass, the Yellow Jackets drove 80 yards in 10 plays, ending with Burns recovering Will Glover's fumble in the end zone to cut Maryland's lead to 14-7 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.

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