Merrills extends UM run

Senior wakes up sluggish Terps, who top winless Temple for 3 in row

Maryland 38 Temple 7

College football

October 09, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

Philadelphia -- An October scare came early for Maryland yesterday when one of the worst football teams in the country jumped out and scored first.

Then came another one - coach Ralph Friedgen.

"He chewed us up a little bit and spit us out," senior receiver Danny Melendez said of Friedgen's halftime speech.

It was a game the Terps (4-2) were expected to win handily against a Temple program that has had only one winning season in the past two decades. Mistakes kept the winless Owls (0-6) in the game, though, before a strong second half and a career day by senior running back Mario Merrills resulted in a 38-7 win.

"We were hanging on for our lives," Friedgen said of the first half, which included one lost fumble, a holding penalty on a touchdown and an interception in the end zone.

In the end, Maryland avoided a letdown, but it was difficult to tell if the team accomplished its goal of improving each week - especially in a steady rain with a few starters injured and an atmosphere more conducive to a track meet than a Division I college football game. A sparse crowd of roughly 500 fans - mainly from Maryland - witnessed the kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field, and the final announced attendance was a generous 11,311.

Maryland has now won three games in a row heading into the Oct. 20 ESPN-televised game against third-ranked Virginia Tech, and is two wins shy of a bowl appearance. The Terps hadn't won three straight since the end of the 2003 season. A large portion of the win can be attributed to Maryland's five rushing touchdowns, three of which Merrills accounted for. Merrills, who had no carries in the past six quarters, finished with 66 yards on 12 carries yesterday. In the end, his performance overshadowed the first-half mistakes.

"Those are things we have got to get corrected, but you're not going to hear me complain about winning," Friedgen said. " ... We've got the toughest part of our schedule coming up. We're growing as a team every day. I'm excited about the rest of this season."

The Terps' performance against Temple mirrored their week of practice, with a sluggish start and a strong finish. It was nearly 25 minutes into the game before Maryland took its first lead when Merrills scored on a 6-yard run for a 10-7 edge. With 1:04 left in the half, Merrills scored again on a 1-yard run and sent the Terps to the locker room with a precarious 17-7 lead over a team that had been outscored 259-56.

Merrills had disappeared from the action in the past two games, benched in favor of Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore, who combined for 209 yards and four touchdowns in last weekend's 45-33 upset of Virginia.

"I just really tried to run with a passion today, especially not playing the last game," said Merrills. "It's been a little frustrating for me. But I just tried to take advantage of my opportunity and the linemen did a great job today. By no means am I taking all the credit."

Friedgen said Merrills didn't do anything extraordinary during the week, rather made his statement in the game when given the opportunity. Merrills became the first Terp to score three rushing touchdowns in a game since current Philadelphia Eagle Bruce Perry in 2003 against Wake Forest

"Today we thought Keon probably could've gotten some more yards out of his carries, [so] we put Mario in and he showed us he could get more yards so Mario got the ball," Friedgen said. "Like I told you, whoever is the hot guy is going to stay in the game."

It didn't hurt that the Terps' average field position in the second half was the Owls' 45-yard line. Temple also graced Maryland with three turnovers on fumbles, one interception and seven penalties for a loss of 71 yards.

Friedgen credited a change in momentum to Josh Wilson's blocked punt on Temple's first drive of the second half. Maryland scored on its next two drives for a 31-7 lead.

"We knew it was time to step up and wake up," Wilson said. "We let them get down the field and get in the end zone. We turned up our intensity."

Wesley Jefferson started in place of senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who injured his leg at practice this week. Jefferson led the Terps with nine tackles - all assisted - and one fumble recovery. Maryland held Temple to a season-low 226 yards. Before the game began, Maryland nose tackle Dre Moore sprained his ankle and starting guard Donnie Woods hurt his neck in pre-game drills.

"That wasn't a good omen," Friedgen said.

Just ask kicker Dan Ennis, who snapped a streak of 11 consecutive field goals when he missed his first of the season, a 39-yard attempt in the third quarter.

Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 228 yards, said the whole trip was a little "weird."

"It was one of those experiences you're just thankful to come out of it with a win," Hollenbach said. " ... This was a little bit out of the ordinary, but I think our team adjusted well to it."

Heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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