- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

A regional football rivalry suddenly could have an impact on a national scale carrying all the way to New Year’s Day.

No. 21 Maryland (2-0) visits No.7 West Virginia today before a sellout crowd at Mountaineer Field and a national TV audience. The once-time backwater brawl between unranked border states has become more personal than a family feud after four straight Maryland wins.

A victory might propel West Virginia to an undefeated season. Maryland could reach 6-0 before facing a month-long series of ACC heavyweights. Both programs could impress pollsters and bowl representatives.

“We’ll know a lot more about this team after Saturday’s game,” Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I still like this team regardless of what happens. I like how they prepared this week. I see this team really growing. This is a big test for them.

“Is it too big a test for the right now? We’ll see. But if we pass this test, we’ll have a lot of momentum and confidence. I could see it really helping us.”

The Terps are 4-0 against the Mountaineers under Friedgen, including a 41-7 Gator Bowl victory Jan.1 that made beating Maryland an offseason mantra for West Virginia. The two teams have become so familiar with each other that Maryland didn’t worry about spies watching practice. They just played “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on the practice field speakers even louder.

“I don’t think they like us,” defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said jokingly. “I’ve coached in some other rivalries — Michigan-Ohio State, UCLA-USC, Bowling Green-Toledo — so I know something about rivalries. … [Morgantown is] as tough a place to play as any I’ve coached in. If you don’t take the crowd out of the game, that becomes another factor.”

Friedgen joked earlier this week he might be dodging whiskey bottles thrown by the West Virginia crowd, but he really wasn’t kidding. This rivalry can get physical off the field, with batteries, coins and golf balls used as projectiles.

“Everybody is against you and yelling,” running back Josh Allen said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Maryland and West Virginia don’t have powerful in-state competitors, so this meeting passes for a rivalry as much as any conference game. Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez and Friedgen both experienced the series as players. They like the chance to show potential recruits which is the better program.

“Every year it stands out for both teams as a big game,” Friedgen said. “Virginia will be the same [for us] and Virginia Tech also. Then we play Navy next year. They should be played because the fans want it and a tremendous amount of kidding goes back and forth. They’re great for college football.”

This will be Maryland’s last nonconference game before facing eight straight ACC teams. Friedgen said the three-game nonleague schedule has benefited his youngest team in four seasons.

“This year it’s probably pretty good for us,” he said. “It gives us a chance to mature some, and if we stub our toe it doesn’t hurt us in the conference.”

Taking an early lead could be essential, especially if rain grounds the passing schemes. Maryland led 31-0 in the Gator Bowl and 34-0 during the regular-season meeting last year, and the Terps also led 34-0 during a 48-17 victory in Morgantown in 2002. Rodriguez hopes his veteran team can better withstand any early deficit.

“We’re mature enough to handle any adversity early,” he said. “Even if we get behind, I hope we don’t panic. We got in a big hole the last three seasons and never climbed out of it.”

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