- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

BALTIMORE — The 40-year wait was worth it.

A miraculous fourth-down conversion late in the game led to the winning touchdown as Maryland outlasted Navy 23-20 before 67,809 at M&T; Bank Stadium last night.

Receiver Drew Weatherly’s 11-yard touchdown with 1:01 remaining enabled heavily favored Maryland to avoid an embarrassing loss in the first game between the schools since 1965. Running back Lance Ball’s 20-yard reception on the previous play — after he looked trapped far short of a first down on fourth-and-8 — kept the winning drive alive. Ball managed to escape three Navy defenders and dance down the left sideline for the improbable long gain.

“I was praying before it and said, ‘Please, let us have us a miracle play,’” Terps running back Mario Merrills said.

It was a wild game with five lead changes. Navy made Maryland look silly at times, particularly in the first half, but the Terrapins used their sizeable weight difference to bully the Mids for three late scores.

“I told everybody it was going to be like this,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “It always is when we play Navy.”

Neither side has committed to a rematch, which couldn’t happen until at least 2010. Then again, Navy coach Paul Johnson wouldn’t mind another meeting.

“It would be fine by me,” he said. “I’d love another shot at them.”

Maryland (1-0) plays host to Clemson on Saturday at Byrd Stadium, while Stanford visits Navy (0-1) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

It was a great escape for Maryland after a dreadful start. Navy ran past Maryland for most of the first half. However, the Terps finally shut down the Midshipmen’s option at the line in the second half and turned in three long scoring drives of their own.

Maryland took a 15-14 lead with 9:15 left on a 12-yard touchdown run by Merrills. The once-docile Terps crowd began chanting “Let’s go, Maryland.”

But Navy quarterback Lamar Owens returned from a short rest because of cramps, and the Mids raced downfield for a 20-15 lead on Matt Hall’s 6-yard touchdown run with 4:43 remaining. The Brigade did pushups in the corner stands rather than the traditional run to the sideline.

Size did matter in the end. Maryland slugged it out with the undersized Mids along the line.

“[Navy] looks a little bit slower,” Terps quarterback Sam Hollenbach said of the second half.

Maryland’s widespread inexperience was under the spotlight of the nighttime opener. Hollenbach threw two interceptions in the first half, the second under pressure. The offensive line was bedeviled by blitzes, and the defensive line frequently was on the wrong side of the option. Navy even converted a fake punt.

However, the Terps also showed a quick learning curve. The Mids looked unstoppable in the first quarter before Maryland finally began to seal the outside lanes. While Owens gained 103 yards rushing before leaving late in the third quarter with cramps, the Mids no longer were regularly reeling off long gains. At least, until Owens returned midway through the fourth.

“We grew as a group tonight,” Friedgen said. “We had a lot of adversity. It could have gone the other way very, very easily.”

The Terps also found new playmakers. Merrills rushed for 149 yards and one touchdown on 30 carries. Kicker Dan Ennis converted all three field goal attempts, including a 40-yarder. Receiver JoJo Walker caught five passes for 53 yards, while Weatherly added four for 36 yards.

And any questions about Hollenbach ended with the game-winning 86-yard drive. Hollenbach rebounded from two ugly interceptions to complete 19 of 30 for 217 yards and one touchdown.

“I felt confident at that point,” Hollenbach said of the last possession. “They were giving me some tricky reads [earlier]. If I had seen some things better we would have made some different plays.”

It was a nightmarish start for the Terps. Navy sliced through Maryland’s suspect defensive line for touchdowns on its first two possessions while gaining 140 yards in the first quarter alone.

“It hit us in the face,” Maryland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It stunned us. We were prepared, but it’s so much faster.”

Note — Maryland receiver Derrick Fenner suffered a concussion during a failed two-point conversion pass. Safety Chris Varner (elbow) and safety Isaiah Gardner (calf) are probable for the Clemson game.

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