Merrills, Ball assure rally is well-grounded

Senior has career-high 149 yards

sophomore keeps winning drive alive

College Football

Maryland notebook

College football

September 04, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland brought a brand new offensive backfield rotation to bear against Navy last night. Suffice it to say that Mario Merrills and Lance Ball passed their initial audition.

Junior quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw the winning touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Drew Weatherly with 1:01 left to complete Maryland's come-from-behind 23-20 victory. But the Terps would not have won without Merrills and Ball.

Merrills, the fifth-year senior out of Wilde Lake, matched nearly half of his career rushing total with 149 yards on 30 carries - both career highs - including a 12-yard touchdown that gave the Terps a 15-14 lead with 9:15 left. When Maryland decided to hack away at a 14-6 halftime deficit by pounding the ball at the smaller Midshipmen, Merrills became the battering ram.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's editions, the Maryland football notebook incorrectly stated that Mario Merrills' 149 yards rushing against Navy was the highest total for a Terrapins player since 1974. The 149 yards have been surpassed in a game several times since 1974, including the Maryland record of 306 by LaMont Jordan in 1999. The Sun regrets the error.

Ball, a sophomore tailback, filled in nicely for Merrills with 39 yards rushing on five attempts and 37 yards receiving. And Ball came up big on Maryland's final winning drive, when he made the play that saved the Terps.

After rushing three times for 29 yards to help Maryland get to the Navy 31, Ball rescued the Terps on a fourth-and-eight. After staying in initially to pass-block, he looped out of the backfield, caught a swing pass in the left flat, then broke a tackle by sophomore cornerback Greg Thrasher, before weaving down the sideline for a 20-yard gain. Hollenbach's game-winner came on the next play.

"I caught the ball and I knew I had to get the first down. I thought I'd have to make a move to get there. I don't even know how I did it," said Ball, who is listed at 5 feet 9, 225 pounds, but actually weighs closer to 210 after dropping some weight.

"Ball's play was the turning point in the game. He was the secondary receiver," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "All [Navy] had to do was tackle him and we were done. I've been on our guys to make them miss."

Friedgen admitted he might have worn down Merrills with too many carries. Then again, Ball had fresh legs when called upon in the crunch.

"Everything I've gone through prepared me for what I did tonight," said Merrills, who made his first start count after entering the 2005 season with 367 rushing yards. "I was surprised we ran the ball so much. I thought we'd be mixing the run and the pass more, but the coaches know what they're doing."

It helped that Merrills often hit the line of scrimmage without being touched, as Maryland's bigger offensive line pushed the Midshipmen off the ball for much of the night.

"Any back wants to be able to get into the secondary [untouched]," he said. "It felt great, but it's also very tiring."

Merrills' 149 yards are the most by a Maryland player since Ricky Jennings ran for 150 against Villanova on Nov. 9, 1974.

Rough game for Fenner

Maryland senior receiver Derrick Fenner experienced the game in every way. He dropped a third-down pass early in the game. Early in the fourth quarter, he leaped high on a post pattern to grab a 28-yard pass from Hollenbach, which was the key to the drive that produced Maryland's first touchdown four plays later, giving the Terps a 15-14 lead.

Then, Fenner was on the receiving end of the night's scariest moment. Right after the touchdown, he got knocked out while trying to bring down a two-point conversion pass. Junior Navy defensive back Keenan Little leveled Fenner with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Fenner lay still for several minutes, before being taken off the field on a stretcher and transported to University Hospital.

Fenner raised his fist to the crowd before leaving the field.

"[Fenner] was unconscious. He was knocked out. I think [the doctors] said he was snoring," Friedgen said. "He was out for [a] minute. After two minutes, everything was fine. He probably has a bad concussion."

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