COLLEGE PARK - When it was over, Maryland players, who punctuate victories by leaping into the student section, walked slowly to the tunnel. By then, the student section had emptied out.
Maryland and its 30 seniors - the largest senior class under coach Ralph Friedgen - had won all six home games this season. Playing their last game at Byrd Stadium, the seniors could hardly imagine losing this one, the one that might have mattered most.
But, with a chance to keep alive their season-long hopes of advancing to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, the No. 22 Terps were overwhelmed by Florida State, 37-3, last night and eliminated from contention for the Atlantic Division title with one week left in the regular season.
The loss, which means the Terps won't play in their bowl game of choice - the Orange Bowl - left them frustrated and dazed.
"I'm still kind of shocked. I didn't see that coming," quarterback Chris Turner said. "I don't think anybody did."
Turner, who was battered by Florida State's pass rush, said: "They played dirty, that's for sure. That's their M.O. What goes around comes around. I can't do anything about that."
On a frigid night, Maryland athletic officials had been prepared to begin selling tickets after the game for the ACC championship Dec. 6 in Tampa, Fla.
To qualify, the Terps needed to defeat Florida State and have Wake Forest beat Boston College earlier yesterday. That combination of events would certainly have set off a loud celebration among last night's announced sellout of 51,620 fans, most of whom wore black because Maryland designated it a "blackout" game. The Terps wore their black jerseys for the second time this season.
But Maryland got neither result that it wanted and needed. Boston College scored a late touchdown and beat Wake Forest, 24-21, while the Terps were still warming up for their own game. That meant Maryland couldn't clinch the title immediately but could still remain alive with a victory.
That didn't happen, either. Maryland turned the ball over three times in the first half, leading to two Florida State touchdowns as the Seminoles took a 21-0 halftime lead.
"I'm very disappointed in the game we played, especially when we had a lot at stake," Friedgen said. "It just kind of boggles my mind we could play that poorly in such a big game."
Florida State won partly because of relentless pressure on Turner, who threw two interceptions.
The Seminoles, who entered the game tied for first in the nation in tackles for losses, hit Turner as hard and as often as the junior has been hit all year.
One sequence was particularly telling. Turner got blasted on a late hit by linebacker Dekoda Watson in the second quarter, then took another shot on the next play for a seven-yard loss. Then he threw an interception, leading to Florida State's third touchdown.
Turner said Florida State's defensive linemen were as quick as any he had faced all year. But he also said: "They talk and they get in your face. There's cheap shots all game. I was getting hit on run plays all the time."
Maryland committed a critical turnover trailing 7-0 in the first quarter. Tailback Da'Rel Scott, churning for extra yardage, was stripped of the ball by Everette Brown, who entered the game with nine sacks and seemed to be in Maryland's backfield all night. Derek Nicholson carried the fumble 22 yards for a touchdown.
Scott, wearing special form-fitted shoulder pads to protect his injured left shoulder, fumbled again in the second half. He had fumbled three times in a 26-0 victory over Wake Forest.
Maryland (7-4, 4-3) didn't score until Obi Egekeze - one of the seniors whose relatives traveled here to watch him play his last game - kicked a 34-yard field goal with 3:46 left in the third quarter to make it 24-3.
Florida State (8-3, 5-3), which still could win the Atlantic Division title, had designated the Maryland contest as a "sod game." That meant if the Seminoles won, senior cornerback Tony Carter was to bring a sample of Byrd Stadium turf back to Tallahassee, Fla.
It was an eventful game for the Seminoles in another way. Junior safety Myron Rolle of Florida State arrived after interviewing in Birmingham, Ala., for a Rhodes scholarship - which he received. Rolle took a chartered plane to Maryland after the interview and joined his teammates in the second quarter.
Maryland entered the game 6-0 at home but 0-3 in games played at night. Friedgen had said he was uncertain why the Terps lost in the evenings. The previous three night losses were all on the road.
While the chilly temperatures and cold wind kept some ticket holders at home, Maryland's student section was packed.
The Seminoles had considered themselves fortunate that it wasn't balmy on their campus this past week. It was in the mid-40s earlier in the week when Florida State practiced, enabling the team to at least get a feel for the cold weather.
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