- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

As it prepared throughout the offseason and into summer camp, the Maryland football team badly wanted to earn a bowl bid. The bitterness of an ugly 5-6 campaign haunted the Terrapins, driving them to spend extra time preparing for what they hoped would be a bounce-back season.

For their trouble, the Terps (5-5, 3-4 ACC) sit on the precipice of both bowl eligibility and another offseason of pondering what went wrong. The position evokes both hope and anxiety but also one piece of certainty: a victory over N.C. State (5-5, 2-5) today at Carter-Finley Stadium will all but assure that coveted bowl bid.

“Tension is in the building to say the least,” junior quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. “We’re looking at going home after next week; guys that I came in with, Danny Melendez and those guys, not playing another college game. That’s what we’re faced with. I think everyone feels that pressure, but at the same time, it’s something you want to put to the back of your mind.”

The Terps had chances to avoid this scenario, even if they didn’t know it at the time. There was the September loss to Clemson, in which Maryland surrendered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Then there was the similar meltdown at Florida State in late October when the Terps led by 10 in the second half.

Maryland could have clinched bowl eligibility in its home finale last week against Boston College but instead committed four turnovers to disastrous consequences. The Terps also wasted several scoring opportunities, managing only 16 points in six red zone trips.

The Terps will play before representatives of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., and the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho, and also could go to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., or the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco (to face 6-5 Utah) if they defeat N.C. State.

“It comes down to this one last game to put all the hard work that we put in over the summer and the winter to put it all together,” senior linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “If we think about that, we’ll be fine when it comes Saturday. It’s all or nothing. Either you win or you don’t.”

The same can be said for the Wolfpack, who also were 5-6 a year ago and need a victory to prolong their season by a game. N.C. State has won three of four since Marcus Stone took over at quarterback, but the real late-season revelation has been freshman tailback Andre Brown, who is averaging 5.5 yards a carry.

Working against Maryland is the looming suspensions of players stemming from a Nov. 1 fight at a College Park brawl. Coach Ralph Friedgen said Nov. 4 three players would sit out a game this season because of their roles in the brawl, but he declined both to comment on the incident since then or name the players at all. This week, he refused to say whether there would be any lineup changes.

Even with a full complement of players, the Terps still have to contend with N.C. State defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson, who have combined for 171/2 sacks and could badger Hollenbach this afternoon. Hollenbach had both a fumble and an interception returned for touchdowns against Boston College, and he has tried to re-establish both comfort and patience in the pocket this week as he prepares for his third start since separating his collarbone Oct. 20 against Virginia Tech.

“It’s kind of ironic because you come out from a week like last week and you feel like you have to win the game, and I think I have to do just the opposite,” Hollenbach said. “I just need to be relaxed, take whatever I have — the underneath routes or whatever comes open — and if not just run the ball or throw it away and give us a chance to play another play.”

If there’s a perfect road venue for the Terps to produce a critical victory, it’s Carter-Finley. In 2001, Friedgen’s first season, the Terps rallied for a game-winning touchdown in the final minute to clinch an outright ACC title and Orange Bowl berth.

Two years later, Nick Novak atoned for a missed extra point with a last-second field goal to cap a comeback from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit as the Terps spoiled Philip Rivers’ final home game, scrambled out of the stadium after getting pelted with bottles and all but clinched a Gator Bowl berth.

While those were among Maryland’s finest hours under Friedgen, this year’s Terps would like to add their own memorable victory in Raleigh. It wouldn’t yield a trip to a New Year’s Day bowl or assure a conference title, but it would provide some validation to the effort the program has put forth in the last year.

“They’re deserving of better,” Friedgen said. “I’ve been on teams that have won more that haven’t worked as hard as this team. That’s kind of a frustrating thing from my standpoint.”

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