Terps rally back, top 'Pack

UM earns 26-24 victory on Novak's 43-yard FG

Terps had trailed by 14

Kicker atones for missed PAT

`I can't believe the team gave me a second chance'

Gator expected for UM

November 23, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In five short minutes last night, Nick Novak's emotions went from devastation to joy.

And with that joy, Maryland's Gator Bowl dreams became reality.

Novak, Maryland's junior kicker, hit a 43-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to give the Terps a dramatic 26-24 win over North Carolina State in front of 53,800 at Carter-Finley Stadium.

It was the second straight year Novak hit a game-winner against the Wolfpack, but this one came just minutes after he missed an extra-point attempt that would have tied the game.

Trailing 24-23 with 1:46 remaining, it looked like Maryland would go home a loser despite rallying after falling behind by two touchdowns. But the Terps' Leroy Ambush put a vicious hit on Wolfpack running back T.A. McLendon -- forcing a fumble -- and Madieu Williams recovered at the N.C. State 46-yard line, setting up Novak's redemption.

"I was afraid to go home to College Park," said Novak, who, on the kick, passed Jess Atkinson as Maryland's all-time leading scorer with 310 points. "I can't believe the team gave me a second chance. Losing a game is something that a kicker never wants to go through. But in a matter of seconds, everything changed."

The victory, the Terps' fourth straight over the Wolfpack, allowed Maryland (8-3, 5-2) to hang on to sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and locked up an invitation to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 1. Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett spoke with her at halftime, and told her the bowl committee would offer an invitation to last night's winner today.

"They've done everything but extend the offer [at this point]," said Yow, who was told to expect a call from the Gator Bowl committee this morning.

The Terps likely would face one of the Big East co-leaders, Miami or Pittsburgh, drawing the team that doesn't earn a BCS bid. The Hurricanes (9-2, 5-1 Big East) and Panthers (8-3, 5-1) play Saturday in Pittsburgh.

Novak's kick was the dramatic conclusion to a game that was emotional, exciting, and at the end, ugly. N.C. State (7-5, 4-4) began the game with a tribute to senior quarterback Philip Rivers, whose No. 17 jersey was retired before his final home game. But after the final seconds ticked off the clock, a stunned crowd erupted in boos as several shoving matches broke out at midfield.

As Maryland's players were escorted from the field, Wolfpack fans threw plastic bottles at them from the stands. Several Terps players picked up the bottles and hurled them back into the crowd.

"I felt like our guys were trying to shake hands with [N.C. State] at midfield," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "After that, we were just trying to get out of there. When they're throwing bottles at you, I don't know how you handle that."

The ugliness, however, was little more than a footnote in another classic between the two teams. The past three years, the Maryland-N.C. State game has been decided by an average of three points.

This game hardly started out that way. In the first half, N.C. State jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two 1-yard touchdown runs by McLendon. On its first five possessions, Maryland's offense produced just 61 yards and turned the ball over twice.

"This team showed me so much character tonight," Friedgen said. "We could have quit, but we didn't."

Momentum changed midway through the second quarter when Maryland put the ball repeatedly in the hands of running back Josh Allen. Allen, who rushed for 257 yards a week ago against Virginia, ran for 147 yards last night. He had 36 of those yards (as well as a 25-yard catch) during an 11-play drive in the second quarter, and Maryland capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Scott McBrien to Derek Miller.

Things, however, were just getting interesting. N.C. State failed to move the ball on its next possession, and Maryland wide receiver Rich Parson -- who was subbing for a dehydrated Steve Suter -- returned the Wolfpack punt 51 yards to the N.C. State 23-yard line. Novak pulled Maryland to within 14-10 with a 29-yard field goal just before halftime.

In the third quarter, N.C. State answered with some special teams magic of its own, as Tramain Hall returned an Adam Podlesh punt 83 yards for a touchdown. When N.C. State's Adam Kiker hit a 32-yard field goal with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter -- putting the Wolfpack up 24-10 -- it looked like the game was out of reach.

McBrien responded with two of the most poised drives of his career. With 6:23 left, he hit Jo Jo Walker on a 10-yard touchdown pass to pull Maryland within a touchdown. The Terps defense, which held Rivers to 16-for-30 passing for 276 yards, forced another punt, and McBrien hit Parson on a 42-yard pass to the Wolfpack's 19. Five plays later, McBrien ran it in himself from 2 yards out to make it 24-23.

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