- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Maryland’s football team learned yesterday it’s not quite ready for the heavyweights, but the Terrapins don’t appear far away.

No. 7 West Virginia outlasted No.21 Maryland 19-16 in overtime before 60,358 at Mountaineer Field. The Terps’ five turnovers were the most ever in coach Ralph Friedgen’s four seasons, but Maryland still led 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter. A narrowly missed 49-yard field goal attempt in swirling winds near regulation’s end proved costly.

The Terps (2-1) nearly stole a victory from the Mountaineers (3-0). Now Maryland must regroup for its ACC opener at Duke on Saturday. A turnover-plagued offense remains baffling, but a strong defense and special teams show Maryland is a serious bowl contender once more. Fiesta and Orange bowl representatives met with Friedgen after the game.

“If they’re the Number 7 ranked team in the country, we can’t be too far behind,” Friedgen said. “That we were still in the game with all the mistakes we made was truly amazing. I told our kids at halftime, ‘We’re playing about as bad as we can play, and you’re still in the game. You have to take the fight to them because they’re taking it to us.’”

West Virginia fans were rabid after losing four straight to Maryland, including the Gator Bowl on Jan.1. The parking lots were nearly filled three hours beforehand as torrential overnight rains gave way to blue skies. West Virginia doesn’t play another ranked team this season and knew Maryland might be its biggest obstacle to a possible national championship. Plus, the Mountaineers wanted redemption for past losses.

“It’s a big win because Maryland’s ranked, and they’re a great program,” Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We haven’t arrived by any stretch, but we’re getting better.”

Terps quarterback Joel Statham struggled for the second time this season, completing just nine of 20 for 108 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Also, a pitchout to receiver Curtis Williams was fumbled, though Friedgen didn’t blame Statham for that turnover.

Statham conceded one pickoff was caused by “jitters” when he threw into triple coverage. A second was tipped. Statham flashed increasing maturity while running six times for 39 yards, but the interceptions were momentum killers.

“Sometimes Joel has to understand if the play’s covered, there is a third option or [he should] run the ball,” Friedgen said.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s 16 tackles led a tenacious defense that surrendered 220 yards rushing but few big plays. Most of Mountaineers quarterback Rasheed Marshall’s big runs were caused by an overrunning pass rush. Running back Kay-Jay Harris gained 142 yards, but his 6-yard touchdown run came after a big defensive play left the Terps reeling.

Still, Maryland came within 2 feet of winning in regulation when kicker Nick Novak’s 49-yard field goal attempt with 1:15 remaining was wide amid a crosswind that bothered both teams throughout. Novak made three other tries, including a 46-yarder for a 13-10 lead with 9:23 remaining.

“The crosswind was hard to read,” Novak said of his 49-yard miss. “I hit it a little too hard, and there wasn’t a great rotation on it.”

Maryland opted for a field goal on fourth-and-1 during the opening overtime possession. Friedgen considered going for a first down but decided to put pressure on West Virginia with Novak’s 33-yarder.

West Virginia countered with a crossing route on third-and-4 to receiver Chris Henry for a 7-yard touchdown as the Terps blitzed everyone trying to surprise Marshall.

Maryland was fortunate to trail just 7-3 at halftime. The Mountaineers clearly outplayed the Terps with nearly double the time of possession and offensive snaps. Maryland ended three of its first four possessions with turnovers, including two pickoffs by cornerback Adam Jones but closed within four points on Novak’s 31-yarder with 11:48 left in the half.

West Virginia took a 10-3 lead on its opening third-quarter possession on kicker Brad Cooper’s 45-yarder. Statham tied the game with a pinpoint pass to receiver Derrick Fenner in the right corner for a 27-yard touchdown. The Terps solved the Mountaineers’ stacked defense by running just enough outside to spread West Virginia’s corners and set up downfield opportunities for Statham.

“I started to see what they were doing,” he said. “It was slowing down a bit. I wasn’t making the stupid plays I was in the first half.”

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