Terps stun Fla. State

UM reverses 12 years of pain

Statham tops No. 5 Seminoles, 20-17

Win over Top 5 first since 1983

QB throws for 333 yards as struggling team `believes,' delivers upset

October 31, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - When it was finally over last night - when the last agonizing seconds ticked off the clock, when he was finished singing the fight song, and after he had made his way through a sea of students - Ralph Friedgen tried not to cry.

Several times, he stopped in mid-sentence, hoping to rein in his emotions, but for the most part, he knew it was pointless. Maryland had just upset No. 5 Florida State, 20-17, in front of 52,203 at Byrd Stadium, had just beaten the Seminoles for the first time in school history after 12 straight years of disappointment and 14 games overall, and if there was ever a time for a football coach to get emotional, this was it.

"I wanted these kids to feel what it was like to win this type of game," Friedgen said, his voice shaking. "They've had such disappointments. I really didn't think I was reaching them. That was getting frustrating. ... But we kept fighting, kept digging down and found a way to win. I'm just so excited right now."

Even as fans flooded the field, it was still hard to believe what had taken place. Players hugged one another, students held up signs declaring "Florida State, R.I.P." and so many seemed desperate to reach out and touch Friedgen, as if that would prove this wasn't a dream.

How did Maryland do it? Good defense, good field-goal kicking and quarterback Joel Statham. A few weeks ago, that would have seemed preposterous. But after hearing that he was the reason Maryland (4-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) was struggling, Statham came up with the best game of his career, giving the Terps their first victory over a Top 10 team since 1990. In fact, the last time Maryland beat a team ranked as high as the Seminoles was Oct. 29, 1983, a 28-26 victory over then-No. 3 North Carolina.

"I think this was real big for me and real big for our team," Statham said. "We really needed something to get our spirits back up. It was indescribable."

The sophomore from Chatsworth, Ga., who had been benched twice in the Terps' past three games, hit his first four passes and kept rolling from there. He finished with 333 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed for a score. He was accurate and calm, and in the opinion of Terps senior cornerback Domonique Foxworth, "Joel was a great leader tonight."

And so no matter what happens from this point on with Statham's career, he will always have this: He was the first Maryland quarterback to knock off the Seminoles (6-2, 4-2).

"It felt good to have the fans back behind me," Statham said.

The Terps jumped out to a 13-3 lead at halftime, then nearly watched it slip away late when Florida State quarterback Chris Rix came into the game and led a furious rally. But in the end, Maryland's defense refused to give in, and Xavier Beitia missed two fourth-quarter field goals helping Maryland hold on.

The Terps still need two wins in their last three games to qualify for a fourth straight bowl bid.

Even though Maryland has put together three straight seasons of 10 or more wins, there were plenty of people outside the program quick to point out that the Terps had always come up short against the Seminoles, losing three straight under Friedgen. If Maryland couldn't beat the best in the league, they said, the program had not yet arrived.

"Even though we won the conference title [in 2001] we still lost to them," Foxworth said. "So this feels like a coming of age for our program."

At the start of the second half, Statham made his one big mistake of the game, throwing the ball to Seminoles cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to cut Maryland's lead to 13-10. But unlike so many previous games against Florida State, the Terps didn't collapse.

Maryland's very next drive, on third-and-four from the Terps' 28-yard line, offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe called for a short little screen pass to running back Josh Allen.

Statham flipped the ball to Allen in the right flat, and the junior running back made what he would later describe as the biggest play of his career. Allen slipped between two defenders, and cut back toward the middle of the field on a 72-yard TD.

"I told our team we weren't going to play scared," Friedgen said. "We went right at them. When you play a good team, that's how you have to play."

Rix - a three-year starter who was injured in the third game and failed to get his job back after he got healthy - gave the Seminoles a spark in the fourth quarter, throwing for 140 yards and hitting Chauncey Stovall for a 16-yard touchdown. But the Seminoles abandoned their running game, and could only move the ball into field-goal range twice after Stovall's touchdown. Rix gave Maryland the ball back with 1:09 left after three straight incompletes.

At the beginning of the week, Friedgen was trying to find a way to make his players believe this upset was possible. One by one, he asked his players to meet with Taaffe and defensive coordinator Gary Blackney, and their assignment was to look the coaches in the eye and tell them they believed in the team. Friedgen then asked them to sign their names on a cardboard sign that said `We Believe.' In exchange, the coach gave them a T-shirt with the slogan.

"I hung the shirt in my locker," said defensive end Shawne Merriman. "I think a lot of people did. We looked at those shirts at halftime, and it helped us believe we could do it."

Merriman, though, was the last player to put his name on the sign. "I didn't sign it until everyone else did. I told people, I didn't believe, I knew."

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