- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

Football coaches, being the devious devils they are, will use any strategy they can conjure up to win a game.

Even a little black magic.

That was Maryland’s method yesterday on a gorgeous afternoon at Byrd Stadium that turned steadily sunnier as the aroused Terrapins bushwhacked 19th-ranked Virginia 45-33 in a homecoming thriller before 52,656 mostly appreciative eyewitnesses.

When the Terps came in after pregame warm-ups in their usual red and white gear, they found crisp, new black jerseys hanging in their lockers. Although that is one of the university’s colors, Maryland had not taken the darker approach to gridiron gear during Ralph Friedgen’s five seasons as coach.

Thus inspired, the Terps went out and created a black cloud in the sky for a Virginia team that came in 3-0 and seeking to hand its old rival a third straight home loss. The Cavaliers gave it a good try, but in the end they had nothing to match the best game of the season by a relatively inexperienced but obviously gutsy Maryland gang.

“Since we bought the [black] uniforms for this season, I figured we’d use them for a peak occasion,” Friedgen said, a twinkle in his postgame eye. “We were gonna use them against West Virginia [on Sept. 17], but it leaked out and I decided not to. This time I didn’t tell anybody, not even my [assistant] coaches or my wife.”

Could such a seemingly silly factor decide a game? Well, sort of, because football is a very emotional sport, and every little advantage helps — though Friedgen reminded his troops that “football players win games, not uniforms.” And the coach tossed in a mild threat for good measure: “If you don’t win this game, you’ll never wear these uniforms again.”

Not to worry.

“I got into the locker room a little bit late [after warm-ups] and saw guys taking off the red jerseys, and I had no idea what was going on,” said quarterback Sam Hollenbach. “But [the black jerseys] got guys all hyped up, and there was a little more energy out there.”

Sophomore offensive guard Donnie Woods put it this way: “I think black has that look to it that makes you feel you’re about to take on a whole army. I think maybe it’s an intimidation factor. I don’t know [why], but it excited us for some reason.”

Good show. But as Friedgen noted, it’s the bodies inside the uniforms that get the jobs done. And all kinds of people got it done for the Terps.

Junior Hollenbach completed 25 of 33 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, negating two first-half interceptions that likely kept Virginia in the game. Sophomore running back Lance Ball bulled for 163 yards and two more scores. Senior wide receiver Danny Melendez grabbed nine passes for 125 yards and a touchdown while the Cavaliers’ defense was concentrating on potential gamebreaker Vernon Davis. Junior kicker Dan Ennis booted his 10th field goal in 10 tries.

All this offensive firepower added up to a whopping 570 yards, and little of it was wasted. The Terps put together scoring drives of 84, 88, 80, 94 and 80 yards to help offset the constant running and passing threat posed by Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans and four field goals by the Cavaliers’ accomplished Connor Hughes.

The defense did its job, too, by holding Virginia to one touchdown after the Cavaliers’ 20-point second quarter eruption and restricting the elusive Hagans to 55 net yards rushing (though he passed for 270 more).

Virginia’s Al Groh, a master of coachspeak, mourned the loss and peeked at the immediate future this way: “It’s important that the team remains together and not become fragmented internally or externally as a result of a game like this.”

If you say so, Al baby. Hey, maybe the Cavaliers should try black jerseys at home instead of their usual dark blue.

At the finish, it was easy to understand why Maryland’s Friedgen was saying the victory “felt like old times” and issuing challenges. As usual, the Terps stumbled a bit earlier this season, barely beating Navy and losing at home to West Virginia and Clemson. This caused much concern and doubt about Maryland’s chances for an ACC title and a bowl bid among what the coach referred to as “doomsayers.” (Who, us?)

“We have to win three of our last six games to become bowl eligible, and we have to keep working hard,” he noted. “But I haven’t given up on being in Jacksonville [for the ACC title game Dec. 3]. We’re going to win ACC championships and national championships here — I promise you that.”

Maybe so — as long as the Terps keep those black jerseys handy.

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