- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2004

The crowd of 52,303 turned the Byrd Stadium field into a sea of red. Maryland seniors Nick Novak and Steve Suter bodysurfed the final yards to the locker room. The goal posts stayed, but the heavy foam covering bounced like a beach ball across a mosh pit. Cell phones went dead from overload.

And no wonder. The Terrapins returned to .500 in high style yesterday, upsetting No.5 Florida State 20-17 to end a three-game losing streak.

“It was a major step in our program,” said coach Ralph Friedgen, who nearly cried during his postgame press conference. “We know we can do it now.”

It was a milestone victory for Maryland (4-4, 2-3 ACC), which defeated Florida State (6-2, 4-2) for the first time in 15 meetings. The Terps finally beat a top-20 opponent under Friedgen, and as a result, the postgame gridlock on the gridiron almost caused the traditional fight song to be skipped.

“I wondered if guys forgot tradition,” Friedgen said. “I was the only one [in front of the student section]. What do you do? Just close your eyes and sing.”

The dramatic victory ended Maryland’s longest losing streak of the Friedgen era. After a 21-1 mark at Byrd, with the only loss to Florida State two years ago, the Terps had lost two in a row at home. And the four losses — the most in a season under Friedgen — threatened to end a three-year bowl run.

Yesterday’s victory, however, means Maryland can become bowl eligible by winning two of its final three games. The Terps travel to No.14 Virginia on Saturday.

“It’s the start, not the finish,” Friedgen said. “It will be interesting to see where we go from here.”

The Terps spent the past week repeating “I believe” among themselves. From signing victory pledge cards in the locker room so they could get an “I believe” T-shirt” to walking through Terp Alley before the game with fans holding “I believe” signs, players showed a quiet confidence that the seniors who had won 34 games, two bowls and one ACC championship wouldn’t depart without beating Florida State.

“It was important to everybody,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said.

Maryland’s offense, dormant during the losing streak, finally erupted. The Terps finished with 387 yards, more than the last three losses combined. Quarterback Joel Statham completed 21 of 40 for 333 yards and one touchdown and ran for a second score. He also threw an interception that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown, though.

“We hoped they wouldn’t wake up,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “I thought we were going to win that game.”

Not when the Seminoles had only 50 yards rushing and no first downs until late in the first half. Florida State generated just one long drive against the Terps’ defense, though the Seminoles certainly made it a thriller by throwing for 304 yards in the game.

“We couldn’t put anything together,” Bowden said. “We would make 5 yards on first down but then get stuffed on second down.”

Maryland led 13-3 at halftime, its first margin over Florida State at intermission since 1994. The Terps had several of their longest offensive plays in five weeks and had their first two interceptions since the beginning of the losing streak.

Novak’s 43-yard field goal capped the Terps’ opening possession. Dan Melendez made the big play with a 39-yard reception, his first catch in five games and Maryland’s longest play since beating Duke on Sept.25.

After Florida State tied it on Xavier Beitia’s 49-yard field goal with 2:38 left in the first quarter, Maryland scored on its next two possessions. Novak kicked a 45-yarder, and Statham scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 1-yard plunge for a 13-3 lead with 7:58 remaining in the half.

Florida State reduced its deficit in the third quarter on cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Cromartie emerged from tight coverage against Terps receiver Drew Weatherly with a clear path for the score just 2:02 into the second half.

The Terps countered four plays later with Josh Allen’s 72-yard touchdown reception for a 20-10 lead. Maryland’s longest play of the season saw Statham beat the blitz with a short horizontal toss to Allen, who crisscrossed the field to beat several tacklers.

Maryland nearly scored again on the same trap play in the following series. Sam Maldonado raced 13 yards to the Florida State 12 but fumbled, and the Seminoles recovered on the 2-yard line.

Florida State went to quarterback Chris Rix to open the fourth quarter, in which it trailed for the first time in the series. Rix was 3-0 against Maryland but hadn’t played in five games since he suffered an ankle injury.

Rix relied on big plays to lead the Seminoles to a touchdown on his second possession. After 25- and 32-yard completions, Rix capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chauncey Stovall as Florida State closed to 20-17 with 7:43 remaining. Beitia had a chance to tie the game, but his 45-yarder with 4:40 remaining was wide left.

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