- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

The bright future the Maryland football team has spoken so longingly of all season might have arrived on Saturday.

The Terrapins (3-2, 2-1 ACC) bolstered their bowl hopes with a 45-33 victory against then-No.19 Virginia, giving Maryland a two-game winning streak entering Saturday’s nonconference game at Temple.

While the victory moved the Terps halfway to bowl eligibility, the fact it came over a ranked opponent provided validation to the optimism expressed throughout the program, despite last year’s lackluster 5-6 record.

“This is huge for us,” sophomore left guard Donnie Woods said. “It gets us to 3-2 going to Temple next week, and hopefully we get a win there. It gets us possibly to 4-2 by the break, and we’d need only two wins to get to a bowl game. We have a pretty tough schedule ahead of us, but everything is starting to roll.”

It seemed like it Saturday, when the Terps played well on both offense and defense. The inexperienced offensive line used a limited rotation, but center Ryan McDonald and left tackle Jared Gaither led the unit in easily its best performance to date as the Terps set season highs in both rushing yards (250) and passing yards (320, a career high for quarterback Sam Hollenbach).

Lance Ball ran for a career-high 163 yards, as he took his turn as Maryland’s tailback du jour. And the Terps’ top three receivers — Derrick Fenner, Danny Melendez and Jo Jo Walker — all enjoyed fine days, one made even better by what Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen described as the unit’s best blocking in his five seasons.

“We always stress it to them, but it’s something that doesn’t always get done,” Friedgen said yesterday. “We’ve been working very hard since spring practice doing it the right way. They just did it Saturday.”

The Maryland defense allowed Virginia to make five trips inside the 20, but the Cavaliers were forced to settle for a field goal three times. The Terps also managed seven sacks, doing a decent job of containing elusive quarterback Marques Hagans.

With consecutive wins over Wake Forest and Virginia, the Terps look far different from the team that seemed uninspired at times earlier in the season and suffered fourth-quarter meltdowns against Clemson and West Virginia.

“We were looking for something to get us going,” said cornerback Josh Wilson, who had 12 tackles in the win. “The Wake Forest win got the defense going. This win got the offense and defense going. Now we’re starting to roll. This is what we need. We’ve got some momentum in our corner.”

The Terps probably won’t need much of it to level woeful Temple (0-5), which absorbed a 70-7 pummeling at Bowling Green on Saturday. The schedule becomes much more difficult after the jaunt to Philadelphia, though, beginning with a Thursday night meeting with No.3 Virginia Tech (5-0, 3-0) on Oct.20.

A game at No. 4 Florida State follows, and a visit from No.18 Boston College is sandwiched between November trips to North Carolina and N.C. State to finish the regular season.

Friedgen said he has not given up on the Terps’ chances of reaching the ACC title game, though the Terps could probably afford to lose only once more for that to be possible. Securing a bowl bid remains a priority, however, and Maryland’s postseason prospects seem far brighter after defeating Virginia.

Saturday’s game has the markings of a season-defining victory, much like the Terps’ overtime win at Georgia Tech four years ago in Friedgen’s first season or Maryland’s mid-November defeat of Virginia in 2003. Whether it actually plays out that way depends on how the Terps fare in the second half.

“You don’t know if this is the game. At the end of the season, it’s easier to say which game was what,” Friedgen said. “Last year, we could have said [it was] beating Florida State and the next week we were flat as a pancake. It’s very important not to be flat this week, which to me is a very big threat.”

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