- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

College football teams customarily play softer-than-Charmin opponents for homecoming — presumably to keep the celebratory alumni from dropping fingernail remnants into their drinks — so it was no surprise that Maryland followed this hoary tradition yesterday at Byrd Stadium.

It was quite a surprise, though, to find this particular weak sister decked out in, and disgracing, Carolina blue.

The final score reads like something from TV’s old “Twilight Zone”: Terrapins 59, Tar Heels 21, in a virtual replay of last season’s 59-7 breeze. Maybe we should call them the Tarred and Feathered Heels.

Even if North Carolina is first and foremost a basketball school, its decline in football is startling. The last two teams have a combined 4-17 record, and things got a little gloomier for longtime partisans recently with the death of Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, the Hall of Fame running back from the late ‘40s.

This North Carolina team is so bad that a 1-8 record makes it seem better than it really is, at least on defense. The Tar Heels aren’t stopping anything except possibly coach John Bunting’s continued employment. Which is a shame because Bunting, a one-time All-Metropolitan linebacker at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, is a good football man who also starred at Carolina and achieved a lifelong dream when he became coach there three seasons ago.

You could say Bunting bleeds Carolina blue, but right now he’s just bleeding. Probably he feels like reaching for the Maalox each time his defense staggers onto the field. Or something considerably stronger.

Though Bunting is under contract until January 2008, he could be circling classified ads long before that. North Carolina fans have been yowling for more victories, not to mention his scalp, and one juicy rumor even suggests that Steve Spurrier might be a dandy replacement if and when the Ball Coach and Dan Snyder get divorced.

Maryland’s latest whupping of the Tar Heels — based primarily on an ACC-record 39-point second quarter — was unreal from the Terps’ point of view, too. Where were all those points nine days earlier when they lost that 7-3 stinker at Georgia Tech?

The biggest difference was Scott McBrien, the senior quarterback whose disappointing work before yesterday left a hole in coach Ralph Friedgen’s offense and an ache in his gut. Against Georgia Tech, McBrien departed in the second quarter with a concussion that left him unable to practice until Wednesday.

Nonetheless, the Terps found themselves being led yesterday by last season’s McBrien, the dandy left-hander slinger who made some Maryland fans recall the heroics of Boomer Esiason nearly a quarter-century ago. Of course, the sight of North Carolina’s defense, if that’s the word, probably had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, McBrien completed 15 of 25 for 349 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters. And to show his versatility, he also ran for two TDs.

Great Scott! Did that concussion in Atlanta knock some sense into his head, or something?

“Maybe I should have a concussion every week,” McBrien said thoughtfully. “This might sound kind of weird, but I played careless today. I wasn’t worried about anything. I was just letting it rip.”

As in ripping North Carolina.

Receiver/kick returner Steve Suter, the slipperiest kind of Terrapin, was in full agreement.

“Scott’s a great quarterback, the best I’ve ever played with,” said Suter, who snatched four passes for 72 yards and delivered a 67-yard kickoff return that set up a game-tying touchdown in the Terps’ second-period bombardment. “I guess the difference today was in [McBrien] being comfortable, being loose and dropping the ball right in [our hands].”

The romp left Maryland at 6-3 and in its best psychological shape of an inconsistent season with tough games remaining against fellow bowl contenders Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest. During the week, Friedgen had wondered publicly whether the Terps were having enough fun. As far as his offensive guys were concerned, you can’t have much more fun than scoring 59 points.

“What you saw today from Scott was what I see in practice,” the Fridge said. “He’s had trouble throwing long all season, but today he threw the long ball perfectly.”

If you don’t believe it, go ask John Bunting. And take him some more Maalox.

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