UM gives whole new meaning to turnaround

November 18, 2001|By Mike Preston

RALEIGH, N.C. - Maryland's miraculous regular season ended last night the only way it could have, on another miraculous high note after a gritty, magnificent comeback that defined this team and its first-year coach.

After Terps receiver Rich Parson lost a fumble at the North Carolina State 1-yard line following a 62-yard reception with 2 minutes and 51 seconds left in the game and Maryland trailing by three points, the Terps could have caved in and called it a great season.

But they rallied with a 10-play, 61-yard drive in the final 1:38 that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shaun Hill to receiver Guilian Gary with 41 seconds remaining to pull out a 23-19 win over the Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium.

After the game, the Terps mobbed each other on the field as the victory gave them the Atlantic Coast Conference championship outright over Florida State. Some of them even pointed at N.C. State quarterback Phillip Rivers, who had taunted the Maryland sideline after completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to running back Cotra Jackson with 3:59 remaining to give the Wolfpack a 19-16 lead.

Rivers should have known better. The Terps never, ever quit.

"I don't think I've ever been prouder [of this team]," said Ralph Friedgen, Maryland's first-year coach. "This was a night where we just couldn't get it to go, but they stuck it out and made things happen. I told them earlier, `If you take this into life with you and work through it, you can do anything,' and here they did it. These guys fought for it. I'm so glad they won the ACC outright. We beat everyone we needed to beat."

Maryland is one of the biggest turnaround stories in college football this season. This is a program that has had only two winning seasons, and one bowl appearance since 1990.

And it's debatable if you can call the Independence a real bowl.

But that tells you how far the program has come in just a year. Bowl talk was nothing but lip service for former head coaches Ron Vanderlinden and Mark Duffner.

Last night, Terps fans threw oranges onto the field in reference to a possible Orange Bowl bid, and nothing could be sweeter than a Sugar Bowl invitation.

To truly appreciate what a major bowl bid would mean to this program, you had to have been there at the Independence Weedeater Bowl when the Terps played Louisiana Tech.

It was like a scene out of Green Acres. Cheerleaders and a marching band greeted the Terps on the airport runway. Players dressed for practice and the game at the team hotel. Bowl officials had to paint the field green because it had turned brown. Bowl officials also gave 10,000 tickets away to the Boy Scouts - and it still wasn't a sellout.

But it's different now.

Last night's game had to make your heart flutter and raise your blood pressure, not only because of the championship and bowl implications, but because no one predicted this kind of season for Maryland.

The Terps went 7-0 at home and, at 10-1 overall, had their best mark since the 1985 team went 9-3. No one could have foreseen this. Maryland usually finishes in the bottom half of the ACC with Wake Forest and Duke, but now the Terps are the kingpins, ahead of almighty Florida State.

Even more amazing is that Friedgen did it with someone else's players. The man is magical with the X's and O's. Hell, he should be named the Ravens' offensive coordinator now.

But the Terps' run in 2001 has not only been about strategy on the field, but about the attitude that the club and players developed in the offseason. Players have spent a lot of time in the weight room and Friedgen made them attend classes and study hall.

And if they didn't, he made them run. And run and run.

The discipline and resiliency has been evident all season, and especially last night. With Maryland trailing 9-0 with 1:38 left in the second quarter, it went 72 yards in 11 plays as Novak converted a 25-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.

The Terps opened up the second half with a 15-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Hill to receiver Guilian Gary , and then put together a 10-play, 70-yard drive that Hill finished with a 6-yard touchdown run off the right side with 9:32 left in the game that put Maryland ahead 16-12.

Then there was the game-winning drive.

The foundation has been set, even though it didn't look good at the beginning of the season.

Friedgen inherited Hill, a quarterback no one else in the country wanted, an offensive line that was big, slow and young, a receiving corps that virtually was not involved in the offense and a running game that didn't have a proven runner.

And how about the defense?

The line lacked size and the unit had problems stopping the pass. Overall, Maryland had about one or two pro prospects on the roster heading into the season.

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