- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen considers leadership invaluable. No wonder the Terrapins’ playmakers proved priceless.

The No. 22 Terps overcame a shaky effort by quarterback Joel Statham to outlast Northern Illinois 23-20 last night at Byrd Stadium before 51,830, Maryland’s second largest opening crowd.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s two interceptions and repeated big plays by safety Chris Kelley and end Shawne Merriman helped Maryland survive Northern Illinois’ upset bid that went down to the final play. Tight end Vernon Davis emerged as the Terps’ best receiver while running backs Sam Maldonado and Josh Allen carried a beleaguered offense with 197 yards and two touchdowns combined.

“I told you we’d make mistakes, and we sure did,” Friedgen said. “We’re fortunate to win the game.”

Said center Kyle Schmitt: “It was a little relief to be done with those guys.”

By avoiding its third straight 0-1 start, Maryland is now 20-1 at home under Friedgen and plays host to Temple (0-1) on Saturday. The Owls only won one game last year, but the Terps can’t consider it a tuneup for Gator Bowl rival West Virginia on Sept.18 considering how Maryland’s offense sputtered and the pass defense yielded 219 yards against the Huskies.

Statham knew he would be nervous in his first career start. He played poorly at the beginning of the spring game and two summer scrimmages, but this was a new low. He fumbled twice on pitchouts and bobbled another snap to spot Northern Illinois a 2-0 lead. The Huskies beat the Terps 20-13 in overtime last year so Northern Illinois didn’t need encouragement for another upset.

Statham continued his pattern of calming down in the second half. He beat a blitz for an 11-yard completion, and a 27-yarder on the following play early in the third quarter led to a field goal. Statham finished 12 of 22 for 169 yards with one interception.

“He made some mistakes. I knew that would happen,” Friedgen said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to relax.’”

Said Statham: “That was just the young coming out in me. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be.”

Statham’s worst play came with 5:34 remaining when Huskies linebacker Jason Hawkins scored on an 85-yard fumble recovery. Davis missed a chip block on Northern Illinois defensive end Ken West, who blasted Statham and caused the fumble. Suddenly, the Huskies were within 23-20.

“It was something where both [Davis and I] are young and going to make mistakes,” Statham said.

Friedgen’s projection that Davis would catch at least 30 passes this season after only he grabbed five last year as a freshman looks prophetic. The Dunbar High School grad had a team-high five receptions for 72 yards. He was practically the only aerial target during the first half, when Statham managed just five completions.

Jackson’s two interceptions led to 10 points after Northern Illinois was ahead 2-0 on a safety when Allen recovered Statham’s errant pitch in the end zone. Jackson’s interception at the Terps’ 48 set up Maldonado’s 9-yard touchdown run. The student section, discouraged from singing “Rock and Roll, Part II” at Friedgen’s request, still belted out the key profane phrase without the band’s help.

Jackson’s second pickoff led to a 43-yard field goal by Nick Novak, who became the ACC’s career scoring leader with 328 points. Novak later added 34- and 44-yarders.

Maryland’s special teams gift-wrapped the Terps’ third score when linebacker David Holloway recovered a fumbled kickoff on the Huskies’ 24. Four straight runs by Allen, capped by a 1-yard touchdown, gave Maryland a 17-2 lead.

Northern Illinois finally found gaps in Maryland’s secondary in the second half. Running back Garrett Wolfe scored on a 5-yard reception as the Terps completely ignored him. Tight end Sam Hurd also scored untouched on a 2-point conversion. Northern Illinois quarterback Phil Horvath completed 19 of 36 with one touchdown and two interceptions but couldn’t finish the final comeback after hurrying his last throw.

“All I know is it took a long time to get that ball set,” Horvath said.

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