West Va. halts Terps hex

Despite 5 turnovers, UM forces OT, but falls, 19-16

Tormented by Terps, No. 7 gets revenge after 4 losses

September 19, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For 8 1/2 months, they tried to say all the right things.

West Virginia's football coach, its players and even its fans tried to act like it didn't bother them that Maryland had whipped the Mountaineers four consecutive times, but deep down, they knew it was a lie. It ate at them. It kept them up nights. It drove them half-crazy.

So when the tables finally turned yesterday, when No. 7 West Virginia held on for a thrilling 19-16 overtime victory against No. 21 Maryland, euphoria and relief flooded Milan Puskar Stadium like a dam had just broken.

Mountaineers wide receiver Chris Henry, who caught the game-winning touchdown from quarterback Rasheed Marshall, fired the ball high in the air and was mobbed by his teammates before it came down. Coach Rich Rodriguez, who was 0-4 against Maryland before yesterday, was in such a hurry to join the celebration, he forgot to take off his headset before running onto the field.

In the stands, more than half of the 60,358 in attendance sang along as John Denver's "Country Roads" blared over the stadium speakers. In the locker room, running back Kay-Jay Harris playfully poked fun at the Terps by yelling "We Must Protect This House!", a reference to the recent commercial featuring Terps coach Ralph Friedgen. The team that had tormented them again and again had finally been beaten.

"Everyone always says, `What about Maryland?'" said Adam Jones, who had two interceptions. "There is not one day I can go somewhere [without] them saying something about Maryland. I'm just happy, man. I'm happy for the whole program."

As the Terps players and coaches filed out of the stadium, they could only think about what might have been, and what almost was. Despite five turnovers - three of them by sophomore quarterback Joel Statham - Maryland (2-1) nearly found a way to frustrate West Virginia (3-0) once again and escape with a victory.

But after taking a 16-13 lead in overtime on a 33-yard field goal by Nick Novak, the Terps were sent home when Henry beat Domonique Foxworth inside for a 7-yard touchdown on third-and-four.

West Virginia had mostly avoided throwing Foxworth's way until that point, but on the play, Marshall looked to his left, then looked back to his right and found Henry in single coverage for the game-winner. Maryland has not beaten a Top 10 team since 1990, when the Terps knocked off No. 8 Virginia, 35-30. The program is 0-17 against Top 10 teams since.

"You know, they make one more play than we make," Friedgen said. "That's how we lose the game. ... I thought our kids played hard. West Virginia played with a lot of heart and they are very tough. If they're the No. 7 team in the nation, then we can't be far back."

For all intents and purposes, West Virginia should have put Maryland away in the first half when the Terps couldn't move the ball and weren't having much luck stopping the Mountaineers.

In the first two quarters, West Virginia caught more passes from Statham (three) than Maryland did (two). To be fair, one of Statham's interceptions was tipped, and another required a miraculous catch by Mountaineers defensive back Anthony Mims, but Statham admitted afterward that his nerves affected some of his decision-making.

"It's pretty obvious what I had to do in order to come out a winner in this game," Statham said. "[The first interception] I let the jitters get to me and I just threw it without really thinking too much. ... I've got to control my emotions and keep myself under wraps and make the right throws where they need to go to and protect the ball a little bit better."

Harris, who rushed for 142 yards on 32 carries, gave West Virginia a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run the play after Statham's first interception.

But Harris returned the favor four possessions later, fumbling in Maryland territory after he was drilled by Terps defensive end Shawne Merriman.

Novak kicked a 31-yard field goal six plays later, and despite being outgained 170 to 92, and having the ball for only 10 1/2 minutes, the Terps went into the locker room trailing just 7-3.

"It's amazing that we had four turnovers at halftime and we're only down [four]," Friedgen said.

Things didn't get any better in the third quarter, as West Virginia added a field goal and Maryland responded with another turnover when Curtis Williams fumbled a pitch by Statham.

But with his team trailing 10-3, Friedgen called his offense together on the edge of the field during a television timeout and pleaded with each of the players to show some heart.

Four plays later, Statham stepped up in the pocket and hit Derrick Fenner for a 27-yard touchdown. On the play, Fenner out-jumped Mountaineers cornerback Adam Jones, who was responsible for two of Statham's interceptions.

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