Bitter end to Terps' big year

Florida's Grossman comes off bench to lead rout of UM

Orange Bowl : FLORIDA 56, MARYLAND 23

January 03, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - A remarkable college football season for the University of Maryland concluded on the wrong end of the record-setting 68th Orange Bowl last night.

A 15-point underdog in their first New Year's bowl game in 25 years, the Terps had a chance as long as Florida quarterback Rex Grossman remained on the bench. Once the Heisman Trophy runner-up and Associated Press National Player of the Year served his punishment for breaking curfew last week, Maryland had little hope, as it was thoroughly whipped, 56-23, in front of 73,640 at Pro Player Stadium.

The Terps went 10-0 outside the state of Florida - their only other loss came at Florida State. In his inaugural season as head coach, Ralph Friedgen turned around a program that had one winning season to show for the previous 10, but he was not pleased with the way it ended.

"I'm not proud of the way we played tonight," Friedgen said. "I'm embarrassed. It's my fault. I'm embarrassed for the state of Maryland."

Down 14-0, the Terps came alive on the last play of the first quarter, when Shaun Hill threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Jafar Williams. Maryland drew within 14-10 on a 20-yard field goal from Nick Novak, but the game rapidly turned into a rout after Florida coach Steve Spurrier pulled Brock Berlin and inserted Grossman with 6:03 left in the first half.

Grossman capped a nifty two-minute drill and buried Maryland under a 28-10 halftime deficit with a 4-yard flip to All-America wide receiver Jabar Gaffney three seconds before the half. Grossman, a sophomore from Bloomington, Ind., didn't stop there, guiding Florida to five straight touchdowns and an Orange Bowl record for team passing yards, 456.

In the highest-scoring Orange Bowl ever, No. 5 Florida moved to a 49-10 lead before Maryland, which figures to plummet from the No. 6 spot when the national rankings are updated, got two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

The Terps earned a berth in one of the four Bowl Championship Series games by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since 1985. Pundits argued that Maryland took advantage of a down year for Florida State and the rest of the conference, but the ACC won four of its first five bowls and the Terps hung tough for 26 minutes against the Gators' superior speed.

"They've got some great athletes," Friedgen said. "I was in the NFL [with the San Diego Chargers] for five years, and the only team that looked better than that was the Oakland Raiders."

As his team warmed up, Friedgen chatted with Boomer Esiason, who quarterbacked Maryland in the 1980s and went on to take the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. Athletic Director Debbie Yow greeted Sugar Ray Leonard, who grew up near College Park and went on to become a world boxing champion.

The university's athletic department sold 22,020 tickets to the game, but Orange Bowl officials estimated that Maryland backers purchased at least another 10,000 tickets through other outlets.

"I'm real disappointed, especially for the fans," Friedgen said. "I thought they supported us tremendously. We didn't respond, and I apologize for that. ... We got our butts beat."

Leonard, Esiason and former Maryland track and field great Renaldo Nehemiah did not have to scramble for tickets. Neither did Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Ravens owner-to-be Steve Bisciotti and politicians such as Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

The Maryland bandwagon was not as full in 1992, when Capt. Joe Pruitt of the Maryland State Police became the team's official escort. Pruitt, an executive officer for the state's Eastern Region, has missed one Terps game in the past 10 seasons. Whereas thousands of students wanted to hug Friedgen after a monumental 37-20 win over Clemson, Pruitt did not have to shoo as many fans away from predecessors Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden.

"Like every Maryland fan, I'm euphoric to be here," Pruitt said. "After coming to a BCS game, it's hard to imagine going to a lesser bowl."

The game was played in pleasant weather, but a violent thunderstorm rolled in off the Atlantic at 3 p.m. and dumped rain on the region for nearly two hours. At 4 p.m., ponchos were the hottest item at memorabilia stands. Tailgaters delayed the start of their parties or began them indoors.

The Maryland team arrived Dec. 26 and fans soon followed, but some waited until yesterday to travel. Neil Maria, an executive recruiter from White Marsh, came down at the last minute with his brother George and nine of their friends, most of whom have been Maryland season ticket holders since the late 1980s.

"This is so big, our wives let us come down," said Rick Gentilo. "My wife Susan's three months pregnant. I met her when we were both students at Maryland, that's why she let me go."

Judging by the "O" that disrupted Shannon Brown when she got to the line "Oh, say can you see" during the national anthem, the crowd included plenty of Baltimoreans, or baseball fans familiar with that Camden Yards custom.

Its Clemson game was seen on cable network ESPN, but Maryland officials couldn't remember the last time the Terps had played nationally on old-fashioned, over-the-airwaves television. Only Notre Dame has made more national TV appearances since 1990 than Florida, and the Terps suffered from stage fright in the opening minutes. Brooks Barnard launched the first of his five punts before Berlin drove the Gators 83 yards for a 7-0 lead that they never relinquished.

Down 14-0, Hill connected with a wide-open Williams for a touchdown. Dennard Wilson intercepted Berlin, and E.J. Henderson, the All-America linebacker from Aberdeen, forced a fumble. After Nick Novak missed a long field-goal try that would have brought the Terps within one point, however, on came Grossman and down went Maryland.

"The 2001 team set the foundation for the future of the Terps," Henderson said. "It's not a good way to go out, but I still think we had a great season."

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