- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — After Maryland shuffled off Lincoln Financial Field following a listless first half, cornerback Josh Wilson figured a big play would energize the slumbering Terrapins.

He provided it in the first series of the third quarter, blocking a punt to galvanize the Terps, who forced four turnovers in a 38-7 defeat of Temple.

“It was great just to get us back into it,” Wilson said. “We were kind of dazed and dragging around, and it got some excitement back into the game. It lifted everybody up and got us ready to go and helped us finish the game.”

Tailback Mario Merrills scored three touchdowns for the Terps (4-2), who overcame two first-half turnovers and a steady rain to rout the hapless Owls (0-6).

The victory sends Maryland into its bye week with a three-game winning streak and a sense of momentum as it prepares for a nationally televised meeting with No.3 Virginia Tech on Oct.20.

Wilson’s blocked punt kept both intact. The Terps took over at the Temple 45 — their average field position in seven second-half possessions — and needed less than two minutes to extend their lead to 24-7. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach’s touchdown sneak on the next drive provided a further cushion for the Terps.

The Maryland defense didn’t need much more help other than an assist from the miserable weather, matching its season total with four turnovers in the next 12 minutes.

Christian Varner picked off a wide receiver’s pass on a trick play, and Temple quarterback Mike McGann fumbled when he was sacked by safety Milton Harris and again on a botched run. Maryland’s Gerrick McPhearson also recovered a muffed punt to set up the Terps’ final touchdown.

“Rain is a great equalizer,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Breaks can go either way, especially on special teams and any time the ball is in the air for a long period of time. They didn’t do as good a job of holding on to the football in the second half as in the first, and that helped us.”

Friedgen groused constantly about an upset possibility in the days preceding the trip, and his worries came to fruition when the Terps bumbled their way through much of the first half and actually trailed for more than 13 minutes.

Playing before a crowd of about 500 at kickoff that was generously announced as 11,311, the Terps failed to convert a fourth down in Temple territory on their first drive, then fumbled on their next possession. The Owls, handed a short field and later aided by Marcus Wimbush’s penalty for a late hit on McGann, rolled into the end zone on Umar Ferguson’s 2-yard run.

Maryland marched inside the 10 before settling for a Dan Ennis field goal late in the first quarter, then on its next drive had a touchdown pass to Derrick Fenner nullified by a holding penalty a play before Hollenbach threw an interception in the end zone.

“It was like we were in a fog in the first half,” Harris said.

Merrills, who began the season as the starting tailback, re-emerged after playing only on special teams a week earlier against Virginia and gaining 1 yard on six carries two weeks ago against Wake Forest. The senior ripped off a career-high 24-yard run on his first carry, then followed it with a 6-yard touchdown scamper on the next play to give the Terps their first lead — a 10-7 edge more than 24 minutes into the game.

Merrills added touchdowns to cap the Terps’ next two drives and finished with a team-high 66 yards on 12 carries.

“I just tried to run with a passion today, especially not playing last game,” Merrills said. “It was a little frustrating for me, but I just tried to take advantage of my opportunities today.”

Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson sat out with an unspecified leg injury, the first game the senior has missed in his career. Team doctors told Friedgen that Jackson would risk exacerbating the ailment on the wet field, and sophomore Wesley Jefferson recorded nine tackles in his place. Reserve defensive tackle Dre Moore also didn’t play after suffering a sprained ankle when he slipped and collided with left guard Donnie Woods in warmups.

Jackson’s status is uncertain for the Virginia Tech game, the first game in a closing stretch of five ACC opponents to determine Maryland’s postseason fate. The Terps must win two to secure bowl eligibility, hardly a perfect scenario but a relatively friendly one for a team that was 1-2 just three weeks ago.

“We have our work cut out for us now,” Friedgen said. “We have five tough teams we have to play. We’re capable of winning every one of those games, and we’re also capable of losing every one of those games. We have to be ready to play for those five games.”

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