- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

Maryland’s biggest football rivalry has been somewhat overlooked this week in the afterglow of its biggest upset in 21 years. The Terrapins visit No.12 Virginia today more concerned with inching closer to a bowl invitation than with bumping their border brethren from the ACC title race.

The Terps spent the past few days talking of redemption over the final three-game stretch of coach Ralph Friedgen’s worst season since his arrival in 2001. Maryland (4-4, 2-3 ACC) resurrected its bowl hopes by upsetting No.5 Florida State 20-17 last week. Peach Bowl representatives will scout today’s game after telling Friedgen they’ll consider Maryland if the Terps finish 7-4.

However, the Cavaliers spoke regularly of “bad blood” between the schools this week, especially after Virginia coach Al Groh and Maryland assistant James Franklin had to be separated after a tussle that earned the Terps an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before last year’s meeting. The Terps barely mentioned the feud after the Cavaliers rejected Maryland’s offer last year to resume playing for a trophy in the annual series.

The game is more about the postseason. A loss would force Maryland to win its final two games at No.18 Virginia Tech on Nov.18 and against visiting Wake Forest on Nov.27 to reach a bowl. If Virginia loses, it would need to beat No.10 Miami on Nov.13 and win at Georgia Tech on Nov.20 and at Virginia Tech on Nov.27 to have any hope of a conference title.

“College football in November means you have to win,” Terps center Kyle Schmitt said.

Before it defeated Florida State for the first time in the 15-game series, the Terps didn’t expect to be playing for anything other than pride this week. The three-game losing streak and the struggling offense have been forgotten. Friedgen will continue to push his team’s “I believe” campaign.

“It’s the second season with three games to play — what are you going to do with it?” Friedgen asked players. “Everybody has a tough road from here. … There are no easy ones. I was feeling sorry for myself until I looked at [other teams’ schedules].”

Said guard Andrew Crummey: “It moves from, ‘Can we beat Florida State?’ to ‘Do we believe we can finish the season strong?’ Against Florida State, we learned we can play well and finish.”

Quarterback Joel Statham’s 333 yards passing against Florida State symbolized the Terps’ turnaround. Benched twice during the losing streak when Maryland didn’t managed 100 yards of offense, Statham is becoming the gamer Friedgen envisioned. The sophomore simply needed time, blocking from a battered offensive line and big catches from receivers.

Statham always has been even-tempered — growing up in a small town in Georgia with one stoplight helps that.

“I told him that’s not your goal to have that on your tombstone: ‘Here lies Joel Statham — he beat Florida State,’” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “You want a little more in life after that. You’ve shown you can handle adversity well and not get too rattled or destroyed by it. Now you have to handle success.”

But can the Terps handle success after an upset victory that sent 52,000 fans at Byrd Stadium onto the field afterward? Friedgen saw that game simply as a tuneup for an even tougher task at Virginia.

“This challenge might be bigger than the one we faced last week,” he said. “We’re facing a team that’s of the same quality as Florida State. The fact that we’re playing them away makes it even a tougher challenge.”

And nothing’s better than beating a rival after alternating wins the last four years. Maybe Terps-Cavaliers didn’t feel like a prime rivalry beforehand, but it will by game’s end.

“This rivalry has probably gotten better because each of us has beaten the other,” Friedgen said. “It’s not a rivalry when one team wins all the time.”

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