The goal posts didn't stand a chance.
Right after the Maryland football team clinched a share of its first ACC title since 1985, students mobbed the Byrd Stadium field for a raucous celebration. The 13th-ranked Terps, who have not been to a bowl game in 11 seasons, had done the unthinkable under first-year coach Ralph Friedgen.
The students stormed policemen protecting the posts, and the law eventually gave way to the revelers, who first took down the uprights on the west end before downing the goalpost on the right side.
"This was something I dreamed of," said Friedgen after the Terps pounded Clemson 37-20. "When I came here, I think there was a belief that we couldn't get it done here. I didn't have that belief."
Maryland improved to 9-1 and 6-1 in the ACC, clinching because Florida State lost its second league game when it was upset by N.C. State yesterday. The Terps can claim the title outright with a victory at N.C. State on Saturday.
"I can't put it into words," said tailback Marc Riley, a teary-eyed senior who rushed for two touchdowns in his final game at Byrd. "I can believe it though. I'm just going to enjoy this moment. We put in a lot of hard work and dedication. It paid off today."
Riley saw oranges being thrown on the field because Maryland will be in a BCS bowl if it wins its final game, and the Orange Bowl is the most likely destination.
The Terps won last night thanks to a dominating defensive effort led by a monster effort by linebacker E.J. Henderson that shut down Clemson's slippery quarterback, Woody Dantzler, and forced him into three interceptions before he was replaced in the fourth quarter.
Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill threw for 197 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions to lead Maryland's offense, while the running game racked up 218 yards led by Bruce Perry's 90. Hill's favorite target was Guilian Gary, who had five grabs for 93 yards and a touchdown.
A crowd of 52,462, the fourth largest in Byrd history and largest since 1983, watched the Terps celebrate the championship and snap an eight-game losing streak to the Tigers (5-4, 4-3).
Maryland blew the game open in the third quarter and eventually built a 34-6 lead in the fourth. The Terps were ahead 17-6 at halftime after cornerback Curome Cox intercepted Dantzler, who rushed an underthrown pass while being decked by Leon Joe. Cox returned the pick 27 yards to Clemson's 10, and Hill avoided a rush on third down to find Perry for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Clemson nearly scored on the next possession, driving to Maryland's 4 before safety Tony Jackson made an interception in the end zone off a deflected pass. Henderson gave Maryland its third interception. making the catch after the ball bounced out of receiver Derrick Hamilton's hands. That led to a 27-yard field goal by Nick Novak that made it 27-6 early in the third quarter.
Dantzler left the game after the third quarter after rushing for a season-low 30 yards on 11 carries, and the three picks were a career worst. The Tigers failed to take advantage of freshman cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who played and started in his first game. Foxworth, who was scheduled to redshirt, was forced into actions due to ailments to two starting cornerbacks.
The Terps played a high-risk defense with blitzes and defensive backs filling lanes that left the fleet Dantzler with little room to run.
"There was more than one time I heard [defensive coordinator] Gary [Blackney] say we are rolling the dice," Friedgen said of the high-risk defense. "It came up sevens tonight."
Maryland went up 34-6 after safety Randall Jones intercepted reserve quarterback Willie Simmons and returned 29 yards to the Tigers' 1. Marc Riley then scored his second touchdown on a short plunge.
Clemson added two late touchdowns on a 100-yard kickoff return by Hamilton, and a 12-yard pass from Simmons to Roscoe Crosby. Novak kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Terps a 37-20 lead with 3:18 remaining.
Notes Henderson's third-quarter sack made him Maryland's all-time leader in that category with 25, one ahead of Randy White, who set the mark in 1974. ... The last time the Terps drew more fans to Byrd was on Sept. 17, 1983, when 54,715 saw Maryland lose to West Virginia 31-21.
The goal posts didn't stand a chance.