- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

The last time Maryland visited Virginia in football, several Cavaliers came up to the Terrapins' Latrez Harrison as he was walking off the field. Both teams had played poorly in Virginia's lackluster 31-23 victory, and Harrison was dejected.

"They just said, 'Why did you come to Maryland? You're never going to win there,'" Harrison recalled.

And how did he respond?

"I just kept walking because I thought they were kind of right," the wide receiver said.

Two years and a coaching change later, the 18th-ranked Terps return to Charlottesville under vastly different circumstances. Maryland's eight-game winning streak is its longest in a quarter-century. The Terps (9-2, 5-1 ACC) can lock up a second consecutive New Year's bowl bid with a victory today and are the only team capable of catching Florida State for the ACC title.

"We are a team that is getting better," said coach Ralph Friedgen, who with one more victory will lead Maryland to consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in the program's history. "I see us being able to overcome things because we are confident that we can."

If the Seminoles lose to N.C. State today and Maryland wins its final two games, the teams would share the ACC title. Should that happen, the Terps would earn the league's BCS bid if they finish six slots ahead of Florida State in the final BCS standings Dec.8. Otherwise, the Seminoles would earn the berth likely in the Orange Bowl because of their victory Sept.14 in College Park.

Meanwhile, Virginia (7-4, 5-2) became bowl eligible last week with its upset of N.C. State and has designs on overtaking Maryland for second place in the conference and stealing a bid to the Gator Bowl on Jan.1. The Cavaliers have won seven of their last nine games and have had surprising success with a particularly young team.

The Terps ended a streak of nine straight losses to Virginia with a 41-21 victory in Byrd Stadium last season. If Maryland repeats that victory, a Gator Bowl invitation could come early next week.

Virginia's rise can be traced to the progress of quarterback Matt Schaub, who is eighth in the nation in passing efficiency with a school-record 23 touchdown passes and six interceptions. The 6-foot-5 junior has completed 68.5 percent of his passes and is averaging 227.5 yards a game.

"His most important improvement has been his quickness in his decision making," said Cavaliers coach Al Groh, who has seen Schaub grow from a part-time starter last season to a confident leader.

Schaub is thriving in an offense built on short passes and sizable gains after the catch. His favorite target is All-ACC receiver Billy McMullen, a senior who needs two receptions to become the fourth player in conference history with 200 career catches. Freshman tailback Wally Lundy has 45 receptions.

Virginia's defense is also strong despite its inexperience. Freshman linebacker Darryl Blackstock is second in the ACC with nine sacks. He is part of perhaps the best linebacking corps in the conference, including standout seniors Merrill Robertson and Angelo Crowell. The defense led the way in last week's 14-9 upset of N.C. State.

"It's probably going to be a low-scoring game," Friedgen said. "It's what they usually play."

The Terps are rated sixth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points a game behind All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson, powerful defensive tackle Randy Starks and a strong secondary. But Maryland's winning streak began only when the offense found its rhythm after a slow start.

Scott McBrien has become a big-play quarterback, and the running game has been strong even with tailback Bruce Perry injured most of the season. Maryland ran for 285 yards against Clemson last week and could have a big day against the nation's 103rd-ranked (out of 117) defense. Tailback Chris Downs had 101 yards last week and needs only five more to reach 1,000.

The Terps will be looking to secure a New Year's bowl date by beating their closest rival. But to veterans like Harrison, who remember what it felt like walking out of Scott Stadium two years ago, this game is even more personal.

"I want to show everybody I made the right decision coming to Maryland," he said.

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