Terps relishing title role

Spot in ACC final would be unexpected plot twist

Acc Championship Race

November 25, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- The lack of attention the Maryland football team received in August apparently stung enough that senior cornerback Josh Wilson brought it up this week - unprompted.

He and quarterback Sam Hollenbach, Maryland's two senior representatives at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this summer, were virtually ignored at the media gathering. After back-to-back 5-6 seasons, the interest was primarily in other programs.

"We're looking at Florida State, we're looking at Miami and Clemson - everybody is talking to them," Wilson said. "We're like, `Man, we've got to change this. This is ridiculous.' We just wanted to make sure we came back and left our stamp on this university, so this football team is not remembered as the down years."

As they head into their final game tonight at Byrd Stadium - and what most consider to be the biggest game of their careers - Wilson and his teammates are on the brink of being remembered for even more than eight wins.

A victory against Wake Forest (9-2, 5-2) would earn Maryland the Atlantic Division title and a berth in the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech next Saturday. They can become just the eighth team in 114 years of football at Maryland to win 10 games. They have a chance to go undefeated at Byrd Stadium for the first time since 2001.

They have a chance to leave their "stamp."

"I know these are games that won't be forgotten here soon by the players and by the coaches," Hollenbach said. "Hopefully, future teams will be able to look to those games and say this team pushed through those things and this team was able to win when many people didn't think they would. That's something that could be really powerful and hopefully will help other teams out."

Maryland strung five wins together by a combined 13 points before playing its worst game of the season last weekend at Boston College, losing, 38-16. The Terrapins were given a second chance, though, when Boston College lost to Miami on Thursday night. The Eagles were knocked out of a three-way tie with Maryland and Wake Forest for first place in the division, leaving tonight's game to determine the winner.

As to the naysayers who argue Maryland got lucky this season, and Boston College exposed it last weekend?

"I would say you make your own luck," said Terrapins senior nose tackle Conrad Bolston. "You can be as lucky as you want to, but if you're not hustling to get dropped balls or get picks, then you're not going to capitalize on those opportunities. We worked hard. We played everybody to the wire. We're just a grind-it-out team."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who directed the program to three of those seven 10-win seasons in school history, said his goal from the outset was to win the ACC championship.

"And that wasn't just words," he said. "And here we are and we've got a chance."

It was a high bar to set, considering the previous two teams weren't bowl-eligible.

"That's why I set the goals this year," Friedgen said. "I'm not waiting for [the players] to set goals. I was tired of their goals. They had like, team unity and all that stuff. I don't want to hear all of that. Win games and you'd be surprised how much team unity is there.

"That's pretty blunt, but that's the way I am," he said. " ... Here we are going into the last week and we still have a chance to make all of our goals."

The seniors had their own motivation: "We didn't want to be the class that let everybody down," Bolston said.

Wilson said he wanted to be remembered.

"The last two years when I've been actually playing, you don't remember those teams," he said. "All they're remembered as are the team's down years. You want to forget those years, so you forget the players. I didn't want to go out like that."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Tonight's game

Matchup -- No. 20 Wake Forest (9-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) at Maryland (8-3, 5-2)

Time -- 7:45 p.m.

TV -- ESPN

Radio -- 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line -- Maryland by 1 1/2

Series -- Maryland leads 39-13-1

Last meeting -- Maryland won, 22-12, on Sept. 24, 2005, in Winston-Salem

Maryland offense vs. Wake Forest defense -- Wake Forest has the fifth-ranked rushing defense in the league at 92.6 yards per game and the No. 3 scoring defense at 14.6 points. The Terps haven't rushed for more than 100 yards in the past four games. Demon Deacons LB Jon Abbate has 81 tackles, and is listed as probable despite an ankle injury, along with S Josh Gattis (ankle), who has five interceptions. Maryland QB Sam Hollenbach is 34 yards shy of the 2,000-yard mark for passing, but Terps receivers dropped seven balls last weekend. The Demon Deacons have punted 55 times this season, but opponents have returned for a total of only 54 yards.

Maryland defense vs. Wake Forest offense -- The Demon Deacons are playing for their first shot at an ACC title since 1970 and have set a school record for victories. K Sam Swank has the most 50-yard field goals in the country and is 5-for-7 on field goals of 50-plus yards and 17-for-23 overall. QB Riley Skinner leads the ACC in passing efficiency of 140.3 and has seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Maryland LB Erin Henderson (99) and LB Wesley Jefferson (98) rank second and third in the league in tackles, respectively. Still, the Terps have been outgained in total yardage in every game except the opener.

Heather A. Dinich

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