UM slips out of Navy's grasp

Ball's fourth-down escape sets up winning TD with 1:01 left to lift Terps, 23-20

College football

September 04, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

After a 40-year hiatus from what was once a bitter rivalry, Navy and Maryland - two football programs located approximately 30 miles apart - couldn't have played each other any closer yesterday.

With 1:01 remaining, Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach connected with junior receiver Drew Weatherly for an 11-yard touchdown pass that gave the Terps a 23-20 come-from-behind win before a split crowd of 67,809 at M&T Bank Stadium.

For Maryland, it was a gritty, humbling performance against an undersized team, and a much-needed start to correcting last year's 5-6 finish.

"I thought it was a real gutty effort," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who was a freshman at Maryland the last time the teams met. " ... We were fortunate to come out ahead. It could've went the other way very easy."

For Navy, which graduated 17 starters from last year's 10-2 team, it was an affirmation that the shortest backfield in the country could compensate for its size with its speed and option offense. It was also coach Paul Johnson's first loss in a season-opening game in his four years.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "We had a chance there at the end. We got behind them twice, but underthrew it both times. We missed our opportunities."

Maryland sophomore Lance Ball, who rushed for 1 yard last year, made the most of his opportunity and turned the game around with less than two minutes remaining.

Trailing by five, Maryland faced fourth-and eight from the Mids' 30. Hollenbach threw to Ball, who eluded at least three defenders on a 20-yard gain to the 11-yard line. The Terps scored on the next play, and followed with a two-point conversion to senior tailback Mario Merrills.

"I can't say enough about Lance's fourth-down play," said Hollenbach, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 217 yards with two interceptions. "That was amazing. I threw it and said under my breath, `C'mon Lance, c'mon Lance.'"

"I just had to step it up and show what I could do," said Ball, who had 37 yards on two receptions. "The game was on the line."

Merrills, who missed more than a week of preseason camp with a sprained ankle, re-established Maryland's running game with 30 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown. It had been a major concern of Friedgen heading into the season, as the Terps ranked ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year with 119.5 rushing yards per game. Maryland finished with 427 yards of total offense, a big improvement from last year's average of 298.

With 9:15 remaining, Merrills put the Terps ahead 15-14 with a 12-yard touchdown run.

"Coach always emphasizes get 4 yards a play to keep the drive going, and that's what I was trying to do," Merrills said. "This is my first start. I felt like I came out and ran well."

Maryland tried to extend its lead with a two-point conversion, but an incompletion to Derrick Fenner left the senior gasping for air after a head-to-head collision with safeties Greg Sudderth and Keenan Little.

Fenner was carted off the field with his head in a brace.

Although outsized, Navy used grit, speed and elusiveness to keep from being completely outmatched. The Midshipmen racked up 246 rushing yards compared with Maryland's 210.

Quarterback Lamar Owens led the Midshipmen with 122 rushing yards on 19 carries in his debut as starter.

Although Terps linebacker D'Qwell Jackson made a game-high 18 tackles, including one sack, Navy's triple-option offense confused Maryland's defense at times with its misdirection.

With 4:43 left in the fourth quarter, junior fullback Matt Hall scored on a 6-yard run to give the Midshipmen a 20-15 lead. Maryland responded, though, moving the ball 82 yards on its next 10 plays, setting up Hollenbach and Weatherly for the game-winning touchdown. Friedgen later said Weatherly's opportunity came at Fenner's expense.

It wasn't until the second half, though, that anyone on Maryland's offense began capitalizing on opportunities. Maryland was on Navy's 9-yard line twice in the first half, and both times had to settle for a field goal.

Kicker Dan Ennis, a scrawny walk-on who never played football until he came to Maryland, kept the Terps in the game. He made a 26-yard field goal to open the game and ended the first half with a 27-yarder, closing the gap to 14-6. His 40-yarder with 6 seconds left in the third quarter inched Maryland within five points.

"My nerves were eased for that one," Ennis said of the 40-yard attempt. "I just went out there and kept my head down."

Before the kick, Maryland faced a second-and-four on Navy's 18, but Merrills was pushed back for a loss of 3 yards by Jeremy Chase. On the following play, Maryland was penalized for an illegal formation, but Navy declined the penalty. It appeared Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe confused what down it was, as they called for a handoff on third-and-seven.

After the play, Friedgen argued with the referee, motioning he thought it should still be third down. But tailback Keon Lattimore was thrown for a yard loss, forcing the field-goal try.

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