- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

BALTIMORE.

Crab fests on Labor Day weekend are nothing new in Maryland, but this one in front of 67,809 enthralled eyewitnesses ranked with the best.

On the greensward at M&T; Bank Stadium last night, Navy’s Midshipmen and Maryland’s Terrapins were doing football battle for the first time in 40 years. The teams produced a genuine thriller eventually won by the Terps 23-20, but really there were no losers.

Now the question seems to be, how soon can they do it again?

Neither coach, Navy’s Paul Johnson or Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, is particularly eager to add another emotional annual rivalry. After all, the Terps must compete in the beefed-up ACC, while Navy already has three “traditional” opponents in Army, Air Force and Notre Dame.

But who cares what the coaches want? From the standpoint of every college football fan in the state, this is a game that demands to be played each fall, preferably at M&T; or FedEx Field.

Maryland’s schedule is full for 2006, but with the NCAA permitting each team a 12th game starting next fall, the Terps and Mids should be able to keep steady company in the near future.

And no excuses, please.

Last night’s battle should provide ample impetus for regular renewals. So epic was the confrontation that we should all silently curse Jerry Fishman, the Maryland player who flipped off the booing brigade during the 1964 game — a gesture that basically halted football matters between the schools for four decades.

Even worse, Fishman expressed no remorse when braced by reporters last week. Considering the excitement generated last night, perhaps we should all silently curse him.

Or maybe not so silently. The choice is yours.

For much of the evening, the story line seemed simple: plucky Navy booting the collective backsides of underachieving Maryland. With wriggling senior quarterback Lamar Owens (122 yards in 19 carries) running the Mids’ option offense to perfection, Navy was poised to score possibly the most significant victory in coach Paul Johnson’s four mostly astounding seasons.

But in the fourth period, the Terps awakened — undoubtedly at the strident urging of Friedgen — and made a game of it. Did they ever.

While Navy’s strong running game was producing two first-quarter touchdowns, Maryland sputtered. Despite the gallant ground gaining of tailback Mario Merrills (149 yards in 30 carries all told), the Terps managed only three field goals by Dan Ennis and trailed 14-9 as the fourth quarter started.

Then Maryland’s superior size and manpower seemed to tell, finally, with a 66-yard drive capped by Merrills’ 12-yard run. Terps 15, Mids 14.

But Navy, which has regained its football pride and then some under Johnson, had no quit in it. Girding their figurative loins for one more surge, the Blue and Gold sailed 80 yards in nine plays with fullback Matt Hall scoring from the 6. Mids 20, Terps 15.

Now it was Maryland’s turn to possibly fold. Forget it.

Sam Hollenbach promptly led the Terps 82 yards in 10 plays, tossing an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Weatherly to put Maryland in front once more with 3:42 remaining, and Merrills crashed 2 yards for the two-point conversion. Terps 23, Mids 20.

This time, surprisingly, Navy had no comeback. Or maybe this is a better way to put it: They just ran out of time.

“They were three points better than us — that’s all,” Johnson said afterward, but certainly there was no shame attached to that.

When it was all over, at 9:19p.m. on a cool late-summer evening, the players shook hands and said something like, “Good luck. Maybe we’ll see you soon.”

We can only hope.

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