Hill drives Terps to ACC title

Last-minute score rallies Maryland past N.C. State, 23-19

1st conference crown since '85

UM overcomes fumble at goal line, wins on Gary's 8-yard TD catch

College Football

November 18, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - It didn't seem like a storybook ending last night at Carter-Finley Stadium, where the No. 10 Maryland Terrapins picked up their school's first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985 with a 23-19 win over North Carolina State in front of 51,200 fans.

The Terps would have preferred fewer turnovers than their three, could have done without the halftime tirade from their coach Ralph Friedgen and envisioned better celebration materials than All-Sport sports drink after clinching a Bowl Championship Series berth, which they did.

"I would have preferred champagne, because All-Sport gets a little sticky," said linebacker Aaron Thompson, who will take it because his team overcame its most frustrating game of the season by dint of one late stop and two second-half touchdown passes from Shaun Hill to Guilian Gary.

The last of those came on an 8-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play, 61-yard touchdown drive with 41 seconds left.

Gary's catch was his second of the second half from Hill, and good for the last of five lead changes in the second half. Maryland strong safety Tony Jackson intercepted a Philip Rivers pass with 24 seconds to cap the victory for the Terrapins, who are now looking at their first major bowl in nearly 25 years.

"It was just the best feeling in the world," Jackson said. "To make that play when I did, the whole season has been like a storybook."

The last time Maryland played in a major bowl was in the 1976 season, when it lost to Houston, 30-21. But with last night's win over the Wolfpack (6-4, 4-4), the Terrapins (10-1, 7-1 ACC) are assured of a BCS appearance in early January.

The Jan. 2 Orange Bowl in Miami has the first shot at the Terps, but their final destination - and opponent - could be unclear until after the Southeastern Conference championship on Dec. 8.

The Orange Bowl can also choose the Big East representative, which may not affect Maryland because Miami is on track to play for the national championship in the Rose Bowl, but the Terps could also go to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, or less likely, the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

In any case, last night's win made Maryland the first undisputed ACC champion other than Florida State since the Seminoles joined the league in 1992.

It was the final gloss on a season remarkable, first and foremost, for its surprising nature. The Terps came into this season with a new coach, but also with the aftertaste of two straight 5-6 seasons.

But Maryland, which had been conditioned to shoot for six wins, altered its objective to simply win each game, an objective it achieved until its eighth game, when it lost to Florida State, 52-31.

That game put the Terps into a tie with the Seminoles and seemed to dash their BCS hopes. But they got a gift when N.C. State beat Florida State last week, giving Maryland control of its destiny. A victory over Clemson last week and last night's win finished the Terps' work.

For the Terps, the game began in atypical fashion, with them turning the ball over more than their opponent in the first quarter. This change killed two opportunities for points, and led to the Wolfpack taking an early lead.

In the midst of a promising drive, North Carolina State cornerback Marcus Hudson forced Bruce Perry to fumble at the end of a 14-yard run, and Julius Patterson recovered at the N.C. State 43 with 9:48 left in the first quarter.

Maryland responded in kind, with an E.J. Henderson hit on Ray Robinson that led to a fumble that Curome Cox picked up at the N.C. State 31. But after driving inside the 10, the Terps erred again. Hill's pass caromed off the hands of receiver Daryl Whitmer at the goal line and into the hands of Patterson, who returned it 67 yards to the Maryland 33.

Only a disputed third-down call on an incomplete pass from Rivers to tight end Willie Wright forced N.C. State into a field goal, a 33-yarder by Adam Kiker for a 3-0 lead with 3:50 left in the first quarter.

Maryland's early opportunities seemed all the more wasted when considering that N.C. State controlled the clock for the rest of the first half while settling for two more Kiker field goals.

The Wolfpack's next drive lasted 15 plays and took 5:44 off the clock, with yardage coming in dribs and drabs on short passes and laterals by Rivers that looked like passes before Kiker hit a 22-yard field goal with 10:28 left in the half.

Kiker's next field goal came after N.C. State spent 5:43, using a pair of passes from Rivers to Jericho Cotchery and Bryan Peterson to get out from near its end zone, then taking 12 more plays to get from midfield to position for a 41-yard field goal with 1:38 left in the first half to push the lead to 9-0.

That's not to say that the Terps didn't have their chances to get into the end zone. Between Kiker kicks, Hill missed an open Gary on a pass midway through the second quarter, and at the end of the half, a pass toward an open Parson went a smidge too far in the left corner of the end zone.

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