MVP Henderson follows Dixon's dome lead in Ga.

Senior LB has 12 tackles in his last Terps' outing

QB McBrien stars, too

Peach Bowl notebook

January 01, 2003|By Christian Ewell and Kevin Van Valkenburg | Christian Ewell and Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Maryland All-Americans and the Georgia Dome can be a sweet combination.

Back in April, Juan Dixon was the key player in the school's national basketball championship won here. Though the stakes weren't as high, linebacker E.J. Henderson's farewell to college athletics is also one he will remember fondly.

The Butkus and Bednarik Award winner played up to those accolades in last night's 30-3 victory over Tennessee, recording 12 tackles in a performance that earned him the Peach Bowl's defensive MVP award.

"I know it's a good feeling," Henderson said, looking at Dixon's exit, "and I know that's the way that I wanted to go out."

Four of his tackles came for losses totaling 23 yards. The first was a 6-yard setback for Troy Fleming, when the Volunteers were trying to score the touchdown that it never reached. Two others came when Henderson sacked quarterback Casey Clausen on successive plays in the third quarter.

Those sacks forced the Vols to punt, and Maryland put the game on ice with Scott McBrien's 6-yard TD run.

For Henderson, the win was a pleasant vindication. He began his career with two disappointing seasons, one game shy of a bowl game in each case. Last year ended with an Orange Bowl loss. So, he and the Terps were searching for proof of their turnaround against a quality foe.

"It shows all the hard work really paid off," he said.

McBrien calmly leads

Maryland quarterback McBrien isn't the flashiest player, but last night he ran the Terps' offense with precision. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior, who won the Peach Bowl's offensive MVP award, calmly changed plays at the line despite the raucous Tennessee crowd, found open receivers under pressure and scrambled for valuable chunks of yardage.

Though his performance wasn't eye-popping statistically (he rushed for just 36 yards and threw for only 120), McBrien didn't make any major mistakes, and he kept Tennessee's defense guessing all four quarters.

"We just executed very well tonight," McBrien said. "We drew a lot of zone-man [coverage], but we kept the defense on its toes and made plays when the opportunities were there. We got the job done."

After scoring in the first quarter, McBrien struck again in the second quarter, scrambling for 16 yards right before halftime to set up a 48-yard field goal by Nick Novak. In the second half, he hit Latrez Harrison on a 36-yard pass to set up another Novak field goal. Then he scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter to put Maryland up 27-3.

"Scott made some plays down the stretch," said Maryland coach Ralph Freidgen. "That option we ran was great."

The win was a satisfying end to a season that didn't start well. In Maryland's opener against Notre Dame, McBrien was just nine of 23 for 84 yards as the Terps lost, 22-0. Maryland later fell to 1-2 with a 37-10 loss to Florida State. But McBrien steadied himself, and the team regrouped, winning 10 of the final 11 games.

"We had a rocky start to the season," McBrien said. "It was a shame it had to start out that way. I got more and more comfortable as the year went on and my teammates gained more and more confidence in me as the year went on."

Starks goes down, too

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse for the Maryland defense, the first play of the game was another reason to cringe.

Randy Starks, the Terps' second-team all-league defensive guard, hurt his groin, putting him out for the rest of the game.

"I just got on my knees and started to pray," Friedgen said.

Nonetheless, Maryland made its mighty Southeastern Conference opponent look ordinary. Hoping to show off a power game, the Volunteers gained only 1.7 yards per carry on 27 attempts.

The Terps did this despite playing seldom-used Landon Jones at Starks' spot, and two walk-ons, Justin Duffie and Tosin Abari, at nose tackle.

"I thought they played hard and gave everything they've got," Friedgen said. "I'm just proud of the guys."

Maryland memory

At halftime, former Maryland defensive lineman Randy White (1972-74) was inducted into the Peach Bowl Hall of Fame for his performance in the 1973 game.

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