Novak success extra sweet

After rough start, UM kicker justifies Friedgen's faith

October 13, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The applause for Nick Novak continued into the day after his two field goals lifted Maryland to its biggest win in years, an overtime triumph over Georgia Tech on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Yesterday, the phone rang "off the hook" in Novak's room only hours after the Terps had deplaned at 4 a.m. Parents and relatives called to congratulate him. When he went to his anatomy class at noon, classmates patted him on the back.

Friend and teammate Steve Suter prepared Novak for some of the hoopla as the two entered a dining hall, telling him that he was going to call him out. "I'm going to roast you," Novak recalled, "and sure enough, he did, and people started clapping."

Mukala Sikyala, leaving the Gossett Team House at the south end of Byrd Stadium, yelled "big time" to Novak as he did one of several interviews about his 46-yard field goal at the end of regulation that sent the Tech game into overtime and his 26-yarder that won it, 20-17.

The victory virtually assured the No. 22 Terps (6-0) of their first bowl appearance since 1990.

"I'm just enjoying it, but I know that this time for a kicker can be taken away," he said.

For the redshirt freshman from Charlottesville, Va., the rags are just as familiar as the riches.

Just two weeks ago, against West Virginia, he missed his third extra point of the season, helping provide punch-line fodder for his coach, Ralph Friedgen, who joked that the most entertaining part of the game for the fans should be the point after touchdown.

Despite Novak's 11 points against Virginia last week, the Terps still had the worst field-goal numbers in the ACC, having missed six of 10 attempts this season, with their longest successful kick coming from 33 yards.

This was not what Friedgen and special teams coach Ray Rychelski anticipated when they awarded the job to Novak after a battle with Vedad Siljkovic. Friedgen maintained that Novak - who missed his first four attempts - would be fine once he made one, but the inconsistency continued.

Novak said he knew he would be fine.

"You've got to keep trying," Novak said. "I had a lot of confidence in myself, and I feel like I needed to prove myself."

His determination never wavered, even after he missed a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter Thursday that would have given the Terps a 17-0 lead. As Maryland, in a 17-14 hole, embarked on one last drive, Novak visualized himself making the big kick, no matter where it was from.

It just turned out that it would be from 13 yards beyond his longest kick as a collegian. Friedgen said he'd been encouraged about Novak's chances after what he saw in practice on Wednesday before the team flew to Atlanta.

Field-goal practice was the last thing the Terps did before leaving the field, and Novak "stroked one from 54 yards," Friedgen said. "When he missed one early on, I told him to forget it. He was going to get to make one to win the game."

Novak said he knew the kick was good when it came off his foot, but he was content to keep his head down during the play and let the crowd do the talking.

Many of the veterans can identify with Novak - the seniors would gladly take a mulligan on any, if not all, of their seasons in College Park, and were quite happy for him, and themselves.

"It needed to happen for him," senior quarterback Shaun Hill said, "and it did and he deserved it."

Novak smiled brightly, as he did Thursday night, at his moment in the sun, hoping for more.

"I`ve had a rough year, and people are showing that they support me. It's unbelievable."

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