- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. | Maryland’s road to a warm-weather bowl required a victory in chilly New England on Saturday.

Its inability to collect a season-ending triumph could lead to an even colder environment next month.

The Terrapins stumbled to a 28-21 defeat at Boston College, a loss likely to cost Maryland a chance at playing in most of the ACC’s midtier bowls.

The No. 20 Eagles (9-3, 5-3) locked up their second straight Atlantic Division crown and a trip to next Saturday’s conference title game in Tampa, Fla. Maryland probably earned a spot in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, or possibly an at-large game.

That’s a startling shift in the span of a week. A Saturday earlier, the Terps (7-5, 4-4) were two wins from playing for a conference championship. Instead, their scenarios include playing on a blue field in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s a big turnaround for us,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “It kind of caught me off-guard, to be honest. Here we are at 7-5 and right smack in the middle with the same record as a lot of people.”

And with a lackluster late-season profile, too. Maryland dropped its third game this month, the latest without receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The junior suffered a strained calf Nov. 22 against Florida State; coach Ralph Friedgen was optimistic enough to bring Heyward-Bey on the trip, but he wasn’t sufficiently healed to play.

The Terps handled Heyward-Bey’s absence as well as could be expected: They had two 100-yard receivers in a game for the first time since 1995. But what they truly needed against the stingy Eagles was a way to run effectively.

Maryland was limited to minus 6 yards, the second time in four games it failed to run for positive yardage. Turner was sacked five times, and Maryland was flagged for a season-high 73 yards in penalties. But it was the inability to create a multidimensional offense that ultimately doomed the Terps.

“I’m kind of disappointed right now,” Friedgen said. “I knew the last four games were going to be tough. If we had won three out of the last four, we would have won the thing.”

Instead, Maryland must confront the reality that a team with 30 seniors - one plausibly built to win now - could face quite a humiliating end. Saturday surely didn’t help.

Boston College was leading 14-7 in the middle of the third quarter when Steve Aponavicius lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt. Holder Billy Flutie, the nephew of BC legend Doug Flutie, rolled right and found Jordon McMichael in the flat for a 9-yard touchdown pass.

But that wasn’t the end for the Terps. Turner (33-for-57, 360 yards) led a touchdown drive capped when Danny Oquendo caught a 13-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Maryland moved effectively on its next possession, only to stall before Obi Egekeze pushed a 36-yard attempt wide.

Poor special teams play didn’t help, but ultimately Maryland’s offense dashed any chance of victory. Boston College linebacker Robert Francois returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown with 1:42 remaining to seal the victory.

It all came on a day when the Terps’ defense produced a credible performance. After yielding a long touchdown drive to start the game, Maryland forced Boston College to punt or turn it over on downs on eight of the next 10 possessions. Yet as happened so often throughout an up-and-down season, the Terps squandered their chances.

“I have no idea,” said Oquendo, who converted six catches on third and fourth downs into first downs and finished with a career-high 111 yards. “We have so much talent on this team and some days we just can’t close it out.”

As a result, Maryland probably won’t close out the season in an ideal locale. Even as Friedgen argued about his team’s victories - four against ranked teams - there was a sense the Terps will be relegated to a lesser destination within the next week.

A Chick-fil-A Bowl representative sat in the back of Friedgen’s press conference, an unintentional reminder of how a chance to reach the ACC’s upper-tier bowls slipped away in about a week.

Maryland is in a cluster of six teams with 4-4 conference records - a fitting scrum for an even conference - and five schools boast better overall marks than the Terps.

“I think we’re better than what our record shows,” Friedgen said. “Losing these last two games doesn’t make me feel real good.”

It might even leave the Fridge feeling, well, frigid. When bowl invitations arrive, his players might share a sensation even icier than the feeling of frittering away such a promising opportunity.

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