Loss to N. Illinois still pains Terps

OT stunner in '03 opener fresh in players' minds

College Football

September 01, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It was the longest, loneliest trip home the team would take all season.

A year ago, Maryland had just been upset by Northern Illinois, falling, 20-13, in overtime, and in the streets of DeKalb, Ill., people were going nuts. As the Terps piled onto the team bus, Huskies fans were celebrating one of the biggest wins in the program's history. They were singing the Northern Illinois fight song, cracking open a fresh beer, and mocking big, bad Maryland with sing-song chants of "O-ver ra-ted!" It was loud, it was hot, and the celebration wouldn't die down in some corners of the town until nearly dawn.

On the bus ride back to Chicago, and on the flight back to Maryland, it was a very different scene. Most of the players, still stunned at what had just happened, were completely silent.

"I'll never forget that trip back," said Terps center Kyle Schmitt. "We didn't get home until about 4 a.m., and we were miserable the whole time. We were kind of shocked, but also we realized that we just got our butts kicked."

The game didn't doom Maryland's promising season, but it certainly catapulted Northern Illinois onto the national radar. The highlights led ESPN's SportsCenter, and for the next few months, the game would be trotted out anytime someone wanted to make the case that there was, in fact, parity in college football.

The Huskies will still be trying to make that case when they visit College Park on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

DeKalb's only previous claim to fame was that it was the birthplace of supermodel Cindy Crawford, but as the year went on, the town became better known as home to one of the best stories in college football. Northern Illinois started the year 7-0, and rose as high as No. 12 in the rankings, but the victory over Maryland was the game that made people believers.

"It was amazing," said Huskies wide receiver Dan Sheldon. "It's hard to even describe what it was like. The overall excitement on campus was just amazing. The whole place came alive. Everyone was talking about it. Our next couple games were sold out because people wanted to see us with their own eyes."

The bad taste that Maryland left town with has never completely faded. Terps coach Ralph Friedgen took the loss hard, conceding that he had allowed his team to overlook the Huskies during the preseason.

The first day of camp this year, Friedgen mentioned to his players that Huskies coach Joe Novak had been on ESPN Radio, saying he was looking forward to bringing his team to Byrd Stadium, where the Terps are 19-1 under Friedgen.

"Well, we're looking forward to playing them, too," Friedgen said.

The team understood what their coach was saying, and he didn't need to use words like revenge or payback to get the message across.

"He really doesn't have to tell us," said quarterback Joel Statham. "We remember last year. The more we watched the tape, the more we wanted to reconcile what happened."

Northern Illinois' players are quick to scoff at anyone who suggests last year's game was a fluke. But it also doesn't surprise them.

"It bothers me a little, but it doesn't surprise me," said linebacker Brian Atkinson. "We've been fighting for respect for years. It just makes you want to keep trying to prove yourself."

Schmitt said Maryland has never suggested the game was a fluke, and that the revenge angle is somewhat overblown.

"They beat us fair and square," he said. "We're not going to get into that. Everyone wants to talk about revenge or whatever, but we're just coming out and trying to win our first game."

NOTES: Kevin Eli, who has missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, has practiced on a limited basis the last two days and could play some against Northern Illinois, according to Friedgen. ... Freshman linebacker Eric Lenz suffered a concussion in Thursday's scrimmage and won't play. Friedgen said Lenz had several concussions in high school and needs to undergo some tests before he's cleared to return. ... Patrick Powell and Jermaine Lemons, who left the team briefly after they didn't make the two-deep on the depth chart, have returned. ... Maryland has 1,000 tickets left for its first two games.

Terps opener

Matchup: Northern Illinois vs. No. 22 Maryland in season opener for both schools

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 14

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