Maryland lets one slip away, 10-7

Late interference call helps Clemson get win

October 24, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. -- One by one yesterday, Maryland's players filed out of the locker room and tried to find the right words, the right tone, to explain what had just happened. There was anger and frustration in some voices, disappointment and dismay in others.

Over and over, the same question was asked: In this game, a 10-7 loss to Clemson, had the Terps been the victim of some bad calls or simply some bad breaks?

Opinions varied. Maryland's players were in agreement on one thing, however. As much improvement as the Terps showed, as well as they played in spurts, they still didn't do enough to prevent this game from getting away, and in the end, that's the only thing that mattered.

"For three years, we got all the breaks," said Terps center Kyle Schmitt. "This year, we haven't gotten any of them. That's just how it is. That's life. Officials don't win or lose games. The guys on the field do."

There were certainly a few plays that warranted a discussion, though. Neither team looked very good on offense for most of the game, but Maryland did gain more yards against Clemson (194) than it had the previous two weeks combined. And thanks to some outstanding defense, and a blocked punt in the first quarter by linebacker David Holloway -- which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Allen -- Maryland led 7-3 late into the fourth quarter.

But Clemson, which had struggled to move the ball all second half, finally showed life in the closing minutes. After getting the ball near midfield, quarterback Charlie Whitehurst completed four straight passes, and with 56 seconds left, the Tigers had the ball at the Maryland 4-yard line.

What happened next was a matter of dispute, or at the very least, perspective. Whitehurst lofted a pass into the end zone on third down, hoping to hit wide receiver Kelvin Grant on a fade pattern, and Terps cornerback Gerrick McPhearson nearly intercepted it.

He couldn't quite hold on, however, and the ball hit the ground. The game clock showed 28 seconds left.

"I would have picked the ball off, but [Grant] interfered with me," McPhearson said. "He grabbed my arm. I was inside of him, I saw it was a fade, I turned and looked for the ball."

Field judge Ronnie Stewart didn't see it that way, and flagged McPhearson for pass interference. Replays showed McPhearson made contact with Grant at the line of scrimmage, where contact is allowed within 5 yards, but not afterward.

"The ref gave me a nice smile," McPhearson said. "He looked at me while I was on the ground, then went to talk to the other refs about the call."

The flag gave Clemson a first down at the 2, and on the next play, fullback Reggie Merriweather took a handoff and got just over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Maryland had one final chance from its 20-yard line with 23 seconds left, but quarterback Joel Statham was intercepted by cornerback Justin Miller.

"In my eyes, I think that [cost us the game]," McPhearson said. "It was a bad call."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose team dropped its third straight and fell to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, clearly was not pleased with Stewart, who was involved in several calls that went against Maryland.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Domonique Foxworth hit Whitehurst from behind when the quarterback was trying to scramble deep in his own territory, and the ball popped loose near the sideline.

McPhearson scooped up the fumble and got one foot down before being pushed out of bounds, and one of the referees signaled that the Terps had gained possession. But after a brief conference, the officials reversed the call, saying McPhearson didn't have control before he went out of bounds.

"There were four calls over there, four by that guy," Friedgen said when asked about Stewart, who was manning Clemson's sideline. "He didn't come over to my sideline [for an explanation]. I think he called the [fumble] also. What bothered me on that one was the guy said we had the ball. Then they changed their mind."

Even though the Terps weren't thrilled with the officiating, they still blamed themselves for not putting the game away several times. Nick Novak missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter that would have given Maryland a 10-point lead, and before Clemson's game-winning drive, Maryland had the ball at its 22 with 4:30 left.

"All we've got to do is make two first downs and the game is over," Friedgen said.

Instead, Maryland went three plays and punt, and didn't run much time off the clock.

Statham played well all day, throwing with renewed confidence and accuracy, but on third-and-four, he bobbled the snap and then overthrew a wide-open Jo Jo Walker.

"I've been talking all year that it's a game of inches," said Statham, who was 14-for-31 for 111 yards but was hurt by several dropped passes. "I just missed that by a little bit. If we would have had that, that might have been the ballgame."

The loss also squandered another impressive defensive effort by Maryland, which had five sacks and held the Tigers (3-4, 2-3) to 36 yards rushing. It was the fewest yards rushing Clemson has ever had in a win.

Maryland needs three wins in its final four games to become bowl eligible, and the schedule is not in the Terps' favor. No. 5 Florida State visits College Park on Saturday, and then the Terps hit the road for two games -- against Virginia and Virginia Tech.

"I'm angry every week, and I'm tired of losing," Friedgen said. "Especially when we have this game [won]. We shot ourselves in the foot. ... Clemson made the plays, and we didn't."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 5 Florida State (6-1, 4-1) vs. Maryland (3-4, 1-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Yesterday: Florida State beat Wake Forest, 20-17.

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