Maryland rallies past Navy

Touchdown with 1:01 left lifts Terps, 23-20, as series renewed after 40 years

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 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 years 5-6 finish.

For Navy, which graduated 17 starters from last years 10-2 season, 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 Johnsons first loss in a season-opening game in his four years.

"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. "It was a hard-hitting football game. I told everyone it would be like this. We were fortunate to come out ahead. It could've went the other way very easy. "

Redshirt sophomore Lance Ball, a New Jersey native who rushed for one yard last year, turned the game around with less than two minutes. Trailing by five, Maryland faced fourth-and-eight from the Midshipmens 30-yard line. Hollenbach threw to Ball, who eluded at least three defenders and sidestepped his way 20 yards to the 11-yard line. The Terps scored on the next play, and followed with a successful two-point conversion to senior tailback Mario Merrills.

"I can't say enough about Lances 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, 'Cmon Lance, cmon Lance.' "

"I just had to step it up and show what I could do," said Ball, who finished with 37 yards on two receptions and 39 yards on five carries. "The game was on the line."

Merrills, who missed more than a week of preseason camp with a sprained ankle, re-established Marylands 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 an average of 119.5 rushing yards per game. Maryland finished with 427 yards of total offense, a dramatic improvement from last years average of 298.

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

"Coach always emphasizes get 4 yards a play to keep the drive going, and thats 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 incomplete pass to senior Derrick Fenner left the receiver flat on his back and gasping for air after a head-to-head collision with safety Greg Sudderth and Keenan Little.

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

Maryland's defense couldn't containLamar Owens, a slippery 5-foot-9, 185-pound quarterback who rushed for 122 yards in his debut as starter. Owens, who was the Midshipmens backup last year, left for a series in the third quarter with a cramp in his left hand, but not before he racked up 103 yards on 18 carries.

Kicker Dan Ennis, a scrawny walk-on who never played football until he came to Maryland, kept the Terps in the game. His 40-yard field goal with M-5six seconds remaining in the third quarter closed the gap to 14-9.

On second-and-four, Maryland had the ball on Navy's 18-yard line, but Merrills was pushed back for a loss of 3 yards by defensive end 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. Immediately after the play, Friedgen began arguing with the referee, motioning he thought it should still be third down. But tailback Keon Lattimore was tackled for a loss of a yard, forcing Maryland to attempt the field goal.

On paper, the teams were evenly matched in the first half. Navy had 199 yards of total offense compared to Maryland's 195. The difference was the Midshipmen were able to score.

Maryland was on Navys 9-yard line twice, and both times had to settle for a field goal.

Despite a new starting quarterback, a few new coaches on offense and a brand new season, the first half featured the same mistake that plagued Maryland last fall turnovers.

Hollenbach, whose only start before yesterday was in the season finale against Wake Forest, threw two interceptions in the first half. The first came on Maryland's second drive of the game, as Merrills tipped the ball into the hands of senior linebacker Jake Biles.

Navy capitalized on the opportunity, taking over at midfield. On third-and-six from the 46-yard line, Owens took off for a 23-yard run and the first down. Three plays later, Owens pitched the ball to slotback Marco Nelson, who scored on a 7-yard run and gave the Midshipmen a 14-3 lead.

On Maryland's ensuing drive, Hollenbach overthrew the ball and Sudderth intercepted it and tacked on a 16-yard return. Navy got as close as Maryland's 15-yard line, but was penalized for an illegal forward pass on fourth down.

Hollenbach completed 12 of 21 passes for 119 yards in the first half.

The Terps got off to a 3-0 lead on their first drive, as Ennis connected on a 26-yard field goal. He also ended the second quarter with a 27-yard field goal, to send the Terps to the locker room trailing 14-6.

The Terps' defense, billed by some to have one of the best linebacking corps in the Atlantic Coast Conference, couldn't do much to contain Owens and the option. Owen rushed for 80 yards on 14 carries.

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