A goal post was spotted somewhere around fraternity row off U.S. Route 1 in the wee hours yesterday morning. Thousands of Maryland fans had rushed the Byrd Stadium field hours earlier, uprooted both uprights and took them on a cross-campus pilgrimage in celebration of the historic night of Terrapins football.
The uprights weren’t alone in having trouble staying grounded after the 10th-ranked Terps pounded Clemson 37-20 to claim at least a share of the ACC championship for the first time since 1985. Maryland (9-1, 6-1 ACC) can earn the title outright at N.C. State on Saturday, and snatch a BCS berth most likely the Orange Bowl.
“One radio station asked me the other day, ‘In your wildest dreams, did you ever think you could be 8-1?’” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said late Saturday night. “And I said ‘Yes, in my wildest dreams.’ I always dream wild. … I just told Dr. [athletic director Debbie] Yow this has screwed up my five-year plan.”
The goal for the first year of Friedgen’s blueprint was simply to win six games and take Maryland to a bowl any bowl for the first time since 1990. A sellout crowd of 52,462, the fourth largest in Byrd Stadium history and first sellout in six seasons, watched the Terps do much more than that as they tamed the Tigers to claim at least part of the title.
“I was just happy,” said safety Randall Jones, one of 19 seniors who played their final game in College Park. “I was thinking about when we first got here and were 3-8 [in 1998]. Now, we’re 9-1 and can win the ACC title outright. It’s unbelievable. You just can’t help getting emotional as a senior after going through all that.”
It was the Wolfpack (6-3, 4-3) that allowed the Terps to claim a share of the title. Saturday afternoon, N.C. State handed Florida State (6-3, 5-2) its second league loss by snapping the Seminoles’ 39-game home winning streak against ACC teams since they joined the league in 1992.
Maryland is assured of one of the ACC’s top two bowl slots, and will guarantee the BCS bid with a win. A loss could land them in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day as Florida State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. However, if Maryland finishes six BCS poll spots ahead, that would give the Terps the BCS bid and take precedence over the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The tone was set early Saturday as Maryland took the kickoff and drove 80 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by Marc Riley.
Another statement came on the first defensive series when true freshman Domonique Foxworth started at cornerback. Foxworth had been sitting out the season in hopes of redshirting, but was forced into action due to Tony Okanlawon missing a third game with an undisclosed medical condition and Dennard Wilson, a starter the last two games, nursing a strained hamstring.
The Tigers and star quarterback Woody Dantzler immediately tested the unproven corner. Clemson drove to Maryland’s 4-yard line on its first possession, before Foxworth broke up a timing-pattern pass in the end zone on first down. Foxworth blitzed the next play and combined with linebacker E.J. Henderson to drop Dantzler for a 5-yard loss. The quarterback was also stopped behind the line the next play, forcing the Tigers to settle for a field goal.
“I was really nervous before the game,” said Foxworth, who played like a veteran and had two pass deflections. “Once I got out there, I was calm. I felt comfortable off the first snap.”
Teammate Jones put it this way: “He went out there relaxed and played the game of his life.”
The Terps led 17-6 at halftime thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shaun Hill (189 yards passing, two touchdowns, 54 yards rushing) to Guilian Gary, and the defense took care of the rest. Henderson (team-high 13 tackles, 11/2 sacks and an interception) made Dantzler’s day miserable. Curome Cox and Tony Jackson had third-quarter interceptions, and Henderson’s pick on Clemson’s first play in the fourth quarter prompted an ineffective Dantzler to be benched.
But before Clemson got the ball back, Maryland led 27-6 and oranges were being thrown on the field to commemorate the Terps’ remarkable season, which could culminate in the Orange Bowl.
“What amazed me is how much it happened in one year,” said Friedgen, who was in Byrd for last season’s finale as Maryland ended its fifth consecutive losing year.
Notes Wilson is expected back this week, but Friedgen wouldn’t say whether he would start. Okanlawon was on the sideline Saturday, but is not expected back. … Henderson had four tackles for losses Saturday, which gave him 25 on the season. That broke the Maryland single-season mark set by NFL great Randy White in 1974.