- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The script is familiar, one the Maryland football team knows by heart and can’t seem to shake. There are impressive plays early on, hints of the emergence of a consistent squad before critical errors and the meltdown of a weary defense cede any chance at victory.

And never has it produced such misery as yesterday.

The Terrapins squandered a double-digit lead in the second half to No.10 Florida State, falling 35-27. It was a season encapsulated in one afternoon for the Terps (4-4, 2-3 ACC), who nearly parlayed 15 quality minutes from backup quarterback Joel Statham and three quarters of fine defense into the program’s first victory at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Instead, the Terps still need two wins in their last three games to clinch bowl eligibility and have two weeks to stew before visiting North Carolina. The pressure that will no doubt build in the coming fortnight wouldn’t have been so great if the Terps had protected fourth-quarter leads against Clemson last month and the Seminoles (7-1, 5-1) yesterday.

“Those should be two Ws, not two Ls, and then all the sudden this season is a lot better than what is, and that’s what’s irritating to me,” grumbled Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose program hasn’t defeated a top-10 team on the road since 1990. “I understand that we’re growing and we’re young, but we’re not going to be any good unless we learn to finish things and put people away. It’s about time we learn that.”

Indeed, this was a learning experience nothing like the Terps’ loss to Virginia Tech 10 days ago, a game the Terps hung around in but never led. Yesterday, Maryland was in control against a team too busy beating itself — two turnovers, 91 penalty yards — to have time to worry about upending the Terps for much of the game.

“To come up short is just undescribable,” wideout Jo Jo Walker said.

Perhaps the jarring lesson imparted in this sleepy southern town will stick with Maryland, which led 24-14 early in the third quarter. That edge was built mostly without starter Sam Hollenbach, who sprained his nonthrowing shoulder Oct. 20 and entered yesterday late in the first quarter.

He played two series before he suffered an injury to a back muscle on a sack and did not return, though he did warm up in the fourth quarter.

That left Statham to engineer the upset bid, leading the Terps to 24 straight points before Maryland frittered away the lead. He finished 15-for-29 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and a costly interception.

“I didn’t come down here to lose, whether I had my first-team quarterback or my eighth-team quarterback,” Friedgen said. “It’s about winning. That’s what it’s about. I don’t make excuses. You didn’t hear me say we were playing with our second-team quarterback. He’s on scholarship, too.”

So is Florida State’s Drew Weatherford, who overcame a pair of interceptions to bring the Seminoles back from a 24-14 deficit. His touchdown pass to Greg Carr brought Florida State closer, but it was the go-ahead drive that crushed the Terps.

Maryland cornerback Gerrick McPhearson committed two pass interference penalties on the possession — including one on fourth down — before Weatherford bounced off safety Isaiah Gardner near the goal line on a 15-yard touchdown scamper with 8:52 left to put Florida State ahead 28-27.

Maryland’s defense, which has lost enough wars of attrition this season, wore down again against the Seminoles. Safety Milton Harris suffered a concussion late in the third quarter and was carted off (though he flew home with the team), but his loss further depleted a tiring unit. The weariness was especially evident when the Seminoles intercepted Statham and needed only six plays to score again.

“I thought our defense played their guts out the whole game and battled every darn down,” Friedgen said. “It seemed like we didn’t have anything else left, and you have to have something left.”

The tendency to be a 45-minute team has plagued Maryland all season, and the offense couldn’t bail out a defense that played well against until late. Statham brought the Terps inside the Florida State 40 but was haplessly sacked on fourth down in the final minute.

Back at .500, the Terps’ hopes of reaching the ACC title game have vanished, and the prospect of a pressure-packed three-game season is hardly welcome in the wake of surrendering another potential victory.

“We just have to put these games away,” wideout Derrick Fenner said. “You see it out there; we’re up. We just have to mature and put these games away.”

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