- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

Everything seems to be going right these days for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

Last week the Terrapins were invited to a New Year’s Day bowl game — the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Saturday’s 41-28 win over Wake Forest was the Terps eighth in nine games and gave the coach his 30th victory in just three seasons at his alma mater. Yesterday the coach scored a couple more victories when he sealed two more oral commitments after he visited a pair of recruits — the team’s recent success has made the Fridge a popular house guest. And finally, the Terps re-entered the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No.24.

Yet despite all these triumphs, Friedgen still is not satisfied.

Friedgen thought the ranking was a little late and light. The Terrapins (9-3, 6-2 ACC) could have been 11-1 if not for a 20-13 overtime loss against a Northern Illinois team that was ranked most of the season and a 7-3 defeat at Georgia Tech when quarterback Scott McBrien was knocked out of the game early with a concussion.

“I felt we should be [ranked] higher than that,” Friedgen said. “We were only soundly beaten [by Florida State 35-10] in one game. I don’t know what else we can do. We should be higher than 24.”

The Terps take 10 days off before resuming workouts for their rematch against No.21 West Virginia (8-4) in the Gator Bowl on Jan.1. Maryland beat the Mountaineers 34-7 earlier this season. Friedgen will attend tonight’s ACC awards banquet, visit another 15 recruits and oversee seven practices before his team departs for Jacksonville by Dec.26.

With one game remaining, Friedgen is working toward 2004. Coming practices will concentrate more on younger players. The Terps lose 12 starters and Friedgen is already looking for replacements.

There was some fatigue in Friedgen’s voice, though, after he endured his hardest season. The coach needed new motivational techniques to continue Maryland’s resurgence. Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich delivered a pep talk on the eve of the final game as he traveled with the team.

“This was the best job we did in coaching,” Friedgen said of this season. “There were a lot of obstacles.”

The Terps’ two straight comeback victories, after trailing in only one earlier win, typified Maryland’s late-season resiliency. The Terps even overcame an expected letdown against the Demon Deacons. With a bowl bid and second place in the ACC already assured, the Terps admittedly had little incentive against Wake Forest. It showed as the Deacons led 21-6 before Maryland scored shortly before halftime and regained momentum.

“I almost anticipated it,” Friedgen said. “No matter how hard you try … it’s still like they’re in a trance. They were trying, but it was something like slow motion.”

Said McBrien: “The last week was so emotional and we already had the bid to the Gator Bowl. It was hard to get up for this game, but it was a game for our seniors. We wanted 30 wins in three years.”

Maryland’s late-season offensive surge included McBrien’s 10 touchdowns passes and no interceptions over the final four games while running backs Josh Allen and Bruce Perry both posted 200-yard games. Perry ended with 237 yards and three touchdowns against Wake Forest despite missing a few minutes with an ankle injury.

“I just had a string of bad luck [this year],” Perry said. “This game, I just relieved a lot of frustration.”

Notes — Defensive end Kevin Eli (bruised ribs) and cornerback Curome Cox (bruised knee) are probable for the Gator Bowl. Defensive end Scott Smith (back) and receiver Derrick Fenner (appendix) may return after being sidelined earlier.

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