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DICK HELLER: Schizophrenic squad somehow pulls it out

- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2008

Those perplexing Maryland Terrapins sure know how to spoil homecoming for their fans - and almost for themselves.

A crowd of 45,018 braved the elements to watch the Terps confront N.C. State on a soggy Saturday at Byrd Stadium, and what the paying customers got for their money and loyalty was a big, fat dose of frustration much of the afternoon.

In the end it worked out OK, thanks to Chris Turner's 31-yard flare pass to backup tailback Davin Meggett that set up Obi Egekeze's 20-yard field goal with six seconds left for a 27-24 victory. By the time the Terps launched their game-winning 92-yard drive, though, some of the faithful might have given up hope.

"We're capable of playing better," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "But we played good enough to win."

Barely. And shakily.

This one figured to be easy for Maryland against a 2-5 opponent that had lost three straight.

Then again, nothing is easy for this bunch, whose unpredictability is well-documented. It clobbers ranked opponents (California, Clemson, Wake Forest) and loses to or is scared silly by lousy ones (Delaware, Middle Tennessee, Virginia).

Schizophrenia, anyone?

So it was entirely in character that the Terps found themselves in a 17-17 halftime tie against a toothless Wolfpack gang that hadn't won a game since Sept. 20. Even worse, Maryland was in this situation because of its own unintentional generosity.

The Terps' defense, minus stellar cornerback Kevin Barnes, allowed N.C. State to put together a pair of 73-yard touchdown drives in the first half, a revoltin' development that must have had defensive coordinator Chris Cosh gnashing his teeth and rending his garments.

Fortunately for the disgruntled spectators, Maryland got on the scoreboard with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Turner to Dan Gronkowski and a career-long 47-yard field goal by Egekeze, his 10th straight.

Then the Terps got a break on the kickoff, snatching a Wolfpack fumble at the enemy 24 and taking a 17-14 lead moments later on Meggett's 1-yard plunge. You could almost feel a wave of relief in the stands - at last a break, and now surely Maryland would take command. Sometime later, the feeling grew stronger when Travis Baltz's 65-yard punt was downed at the N.C. State 1.

Forget it because apparently one bad fumble deserved another. N.C. State went three-and-out, but Danny Oquendo bobbled the ensuing punt, setting up a 28-yard, game-tying field goal by Josh Czajkowski at the end of the half.

If the portly Friedgen climbed the walls during intermission, I'd like to see the films. I wouldn't suggest that Ralph employed profanity while chastising his players, but the likelihood is that his comments were a little more emphatic than "oh fudge."

Every time Maryland gave a hint of taking command, the possibility evaporated like the mist swirling around the light towers. Da'Rel Scott sent the Terps into a 24-17 lead with a 24-yard TD run early in the second half. So N.C. State responded with a 7-yard scoring flip from quarterback Russell Wilson to wideout Darrell Davis almost before spectators had finished exchanging high-fives. Therefore, the antagonists proceeded to the fourth quarter with the issue still undecided.

Finally, when combat was completed and the fans had decamped to their watering holes of choice, Friedgen and his staff were left to wonder whether their football team was headed for the ACC title game Dec. 6 in Tampa, a decent bowl date or oblivion.

The next opportunity to confuse the issue comes Nov. 6 at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, long a house of horrors for visitors. The Hokies are uncharacteristically unranked, which means the Terps figure to stink up the joint. Fans should take heart, however, because two teams currently in the Top 25 (Florida State and Boston College) remain on the schedule.

Meanwhile, Friedgen still must figure how to reach and motivate a football team whose behavior defies logic week in and week out.

Good luck.