- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

At the finish, Maryland kicker Vedad Silijkovic galloped joyously off the field at Byrd Stadium waving a hand-lettered sign that read "4-0." And, really, that said it all.

The resurgent Terrapins were far from perfect in yesterday's 32-20 spanking of West Virginia. In fact, coach Ralph Friedgen possibly the biggest Miracle Worker since Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke lit up the silver screen conceded that the spotless record might be a tad misleading.

It's unlikely, though, that any Maryland partisans in the crowd of 40,166 were complaining. After nine years with a composite 35-64 record and no bowl appearances under the misguided ministrations of Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden, alum Friedgen has brought the Terps out of their football shell after less than half a season.

"No question that we've got a long way to go," Friedgen said. "But I'd rather be 4-0 than 0-4." Then to the assembled media: "Don't you find that a lot easier to write about?"

Well, yes, especially when the oh-so-Deadskins are the nearest alternative. Friedgen engaged in a little postgame salesmanship, saying he wanted Byrd filled to its 48,055 capacity for next week's scrum against Virginia. The way our local pro football team has been performing, if that's the word, a lot more folks might be heading for Terptown.

For a while, however, Maryland was looking like it might blow yesterday's affair against the fair-to-middlin' Mountaineers. Friedgen said his team "hasn't had a normal week [of practice] yet," alluding to the terrorist attacks and last week's tornado that ripped through College Park, and maybe that's the reason. Whatever it was, the Terps made things awfully tough on themselves. Fortunately, six West Virginia turnovers helped out.

Take the penalties. At times, there seemed to be more flags on the field than in the lapels of patriotic spectators. Maryland handed the visitors four first downs on infractions, three of them during first-half drives that yielded West Virginia field goals. The worst of these was a late-hit call on fourth down that kept the Mounties alive before Brendan Rauh delivered his second three-pointer.

"Those penalties are like a hot dagger going through my heart," Friedgen lamented. "We've got to get that corrected." And, he could have added, the sooner the better.

If transfers didn't have to sit out a year under NCAA rules, Friedgen might have tried to recruit Rauh on the spot because the Terps' own kickers were lousy, to put it charitably. After Maryland's second touchdown, Nick Novak had his PAT attempt blocked. After the next score, Friedgen turned to Silijkovic, whose effort was farther to the right than Jerry Falwell. A two-point conversion pass by quarterback Shaun Hill also failed in the third quarter, prompting Friedgen to remark, "Well, that's one way to get the fans out we've made the extra point exciting."

But the worst transgression came in the waning moments of the third period after the erratic Hill (13-for-32, 192 yards) flung a 29-yard touchdown to wide receiver Guilian Gary to put Maryland in apparent command with a 25-13 lead.

Whoops, my dear. The Terps' unspecial team for kickoff defense then allowed Shawn Terry to return Silijkovic's boot 100 yards for a touchdown, putting the grateful Mounties right back in it.

With the toughest part of the schedule ahead, Maryland can't afford such lapses if it hopes to remain among the ACC's elite. Virginia figures to show up full of fight next Saturday, and the Terps later must tackle Georgia Tech and Florida State on the road, as well as Clemson at home. Friedgen's gang probably can assure a postseason engagement by winning just two more games, but who wants to revisit something akin to the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl Maryland's last such date 12 l-o-n-g years ago in beautiful downtown Shreveport, La.? With a break or two, this team might do better.

How much better? Well, it would be nice for a change if nobody around Maryland paid much attention to Gary Williams and Terps hoops for a couple of months yet.

Meanwhile, the football gang will take yesterday's victory, imperfect though it was. When Silijkovic displayed his sign at the end of business, no asterisk was attached to "4-0." As Al Davis undoubtedly would put it, just win, baby.

"When we win, we celebrate," Friedgen said, flashing a big smile. "Winning is hard, you know?"

Around Maryland, they know.

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