- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers will exit as a Wolfpack legend Saturday while Maryland simply hopes to avoid a fabled farewell.

Maryland (7-3, 4-2 ACC) meets N.C. State (7-4, 4-3) at Carter-Finley Stadium for the ACC’s runner-up spot and a possible Gator Bowl bid. Howls from the sellout Wolfpack crowd may prove deafening, but the Terrapins’ bigger challenge is silencing Rivers. The likely ACC Player of the Year will end a record-breaking career as one of the nation’s top passers.

Rivers’ 50th straight will eclipse Donovan McNabb for most career starts. He needs only 14 yards to finish second in passing yards (12,747) and two scoring passes for sixth most touchdowns (91). The first ACC quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons counters blitzes with a quick release and beats single coverages deep.

“There’s not many answers,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “Try to blitz him, he burns you. Try to rush three, he burns you. Rush four, he burns you. Rush five, he burns you.”

Rivers is the only quarterback to rank among the top four nationally in all six passing categories this season. He’s second in efficiency (169.8), completion percentage (72.3) and yards (3,740) and third in total offense (347.2 yards). N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said Rivers has replaced Roman Gabriel as the Wolfpack’s greatest quarterback.

“Rivers is, in my opinion, the best quarterback in the country,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I know he doesn’t have the perfect form, but he has the perfect results.”

Said Terps defensive coordinator Gary Blackney: “We’re expecting the toughest challenge since I’ve been here.”

How does Maryland counter Rivers on the Wolfpack’s Senior Day when No.17 jerseys fill the stands? The Terps’ defense’s 111.6 pass efficiency leads the ACC. Maryland held Virginia’s Matt Schaub, rated the conference’s second leading passer, to 13 of 26 for 186 yards and one touchdown in last week’s 27-17 victory.

Maryland’s pass rush has been persistent, its flexible defense counters balanced offenses and the secondary is considered the ACC’s deepest. However, Rivers threw four touchdowns each against Virginia, Ohio State and Florida State although N.C. State lost to the latter two.

“He alone can beat you in a game,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “I don’t want to hurt him, but he’ll see a lot of me.”

Said cornerback Domonique Foxworth: “He’s going to make plays. He never throws into bad situations.”

Perhaps Maryland’s best chance is Rivers being overcome by the emotional afternoon. He conceded that leaving will be difficult.

“I love N.C. State, but a lot of it comes from how much I love the game,” Rivers said. “It’s the end of something great for four years, but it’s sad because it’s something you don’t want to end.”

Rivers was among Amato’s first recruits who have resurrected the Wolfpack program. Rivers has never made All-ACC and the Wolfpack hasn’t finished better than fourth. The postseason honor is now certain, and Amato hopes Rivers’ farewell extends to a New Year’s Day bowl. However, a Maryland victory probably would send N.C. State to the Peach Bowl on Jan.2.

“I can’t be a wimp and start crying because it’s his last [regular-season] game,” Amato said. “I might cry on his last snap, but hopefully he’ll get 75 or 80 snaps.”

Like his ACC brethren, Friedgen will be happy to escape Rivers one last time. Maryland is the only ACC team Rivers hasn’t beaten.

“Hopefully, it won’t be one I have to remember,” Friedgen said, “but I’ll wish him well on Sundays [in the NFL] because he’ll be playing a long time on Sundays.”

Notes — Rain forced practice inside yesterday. The team worked inside a bubble and Cole Field House. “It was like Arena ball, play it off the wall,” Friedgen said. … Linebacker Shawne Merriman (concussion) remains questionable.

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