- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

The fireworks went off prematurely. And so it seemed had Maryland's season.
In the final seconds of the Terrapins' humiliating 27-point loss to Florida State on Sept.14, skyrockets went off in the distance. The display was supposed to begin after the final gun. Like the bombs bursting in air, the Terps' hopes of a second consecutive impressive season were going up in smoke.
The Terps were ranked 22nd in the preseason and were expected to challenge for a second straight ACC title but failed to provide competition for Notre Dame in their opener or the Seminoles. It wasn't just the fact that Maryland started with a 1-2 record, but how. The Fighting Irish skunked the Terps 22-0 in the Kickoff Classic, and Florida State led 30-0 at halftime. The offense was dysfunctional behind new quarterback Scott McBrien, who was the most visible problem on a team overflowing with them.
"We didn't know if we were going to be good or we were going to be sorry," said receiver Latrez Harrison. "We knew we had potential, but we weren't doing it. It was frustrating."
Last weekend, though, there were no fireworks when Maryland left Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. The Terps had provided their own in a 45-12 lighting up of Duke for their fifth consecutive win. McBrien has proven to be an effective leader, and the rest of the pieces have fallen into place. The Terps have walloped opponents 209-50 in the five wins and are poised to return to the Top 25 as early as next week.
"I don't even really remember those two losses," said Steve Suter, who set an ACC record with his three punt returns touchdowns in a season. "I know it's on our record. We put it behind us. We've learned from it. Now we're going into the ACC, and that's what matters. We still have a shot to repeat if certain things go our way."
Maryland (6-2, 2-1 ACC) is heavily favored to extend its winning streak today at North Carolina (2-6, 0-4). A win over the Tar Heels would make the Terps bowl eligible and keep them in line for one of the ACC's better bowls.
Suter, a sophomore who had a 63-yard punt return for a score against Duke, has developed into a playmaker. Chris Downs has become a factor in the absence of tailback Bruce Perry, who will miss today's game with a sprained left shoulder. The defense has seen defensive tackle Randy Starks and safety Madieu Williams rise to stardom alongside All-America linebacker E.J. Henderson.
The Terps' biggest test should come next week when 10th-ranked N.C. State (9-0, 4-0) visits Byrd Stadium. The Terps likely will need to win their final five games all in the conference and get help if they are to share the league title. Florida State is undefeated in the ACC, and visits N.C. State on Nov.23.
Maryland's main challenge this week might not be North Carolina, which lost its third straight 31-0 to Wake Forest last week. The Terps are battling a severe injury crisis. They lost nose tackle C.J. Feldheim last week with a torn ACL, and senior William Shime will make his first start. The offense will be without tackle Matt Crawford (knee strain) and several other offensive linemen including Todd Wike and Kyle Schmitt hope to play with injuries. Freshman Stephon Heyer will start in Crawford's place.
"Someone else has to grab the flag and go up that hill," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who felt this team would get better because of its workmanlike attitude. "We're right where I thought we would be at the beginning of the season. We're a very young team. Some people lost confidence in us. I didn't."
The defense has been the backbone and has allowed an ACC-low 15.4 points a game 10 in the winning streak. But the team has come to life because of its special teams and offense. McBrien, a junior in his first season after transferring from West Virginia, has seven touchdowns and one interception in the streak.
"He's a very accurate thrower when he knows where he is throwing," said Friedgen, who considered making a quarterback change after Florida State. "I think he is doing a better job of reading coverage as opposed to just picking a guy out and throwing to him. That takes a while."
The Terps have not only been winning but destroying teams. They have won each of the last five games by at least 29 points. The run began with a 45-3 blowout of Eastern Michigan. But it wasn't until the third win a 48-17 pasting of West Virginia that the turnaround really took root. McBrien returned to his old school and ran for the first touchdown as Maryland jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The defense held the nation's leading rusher, Avon Cobourne, in check and Suter returned a punt for a touchdown.
"West Virginia is the most hostile environment you can play in," guard Lamar Bryant said. "The fans are rowdy. There is constant crowd noise, and they have nothing but bad things to say about you. When we went to West Virginia and put on the performance that we did, that's when it finally clicked over to everybody that, 'Hey, we can be pretty good,' Once we got that mentality, we just kept the ball rolling."
Downs ran for 212 yards and three touchdowns in Maryland's 34-10 rout of Georgia Tech in the next game. The Terps led Duke 45-0 with five minutes left last week.
And talk after the loss to Florida State that the Terps were a "one-year wonder" and that it was the "same ol' Maryland" that did not appear in a bowl for the decade preceding Friedgen's arrival have been muted. It has been replaced with chatter about another 10-win season, a run at another ACC title and a second consecutive appearance in another top bowl.
The Terps have shown it was only fireworks that went off prematurely in the waning seconds against Florida State.
"We had a slow start early on in the season, and a lot of teams weren't thinking much about us," McBrien said. "We put together a few good wins so far. We're on a roll right now. When you're winning, the stakes get higher, and you are looking for bigger things. We're really focused on what we have to accomplish."

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