- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

There were lots of mistakes, bad routes and worse throws. The defense was fooled too often. The special teams looked ragged on returns.

As a result, Maryland’s harrowing 23-20 victory over Navy on Saturday could be remembered as an escape act. Terrapins linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, however, considered it the perfect start.

“I’d rather win like this than go out and totally dominate a team,” he said. “There was a bunch of questions behind our football team, but our offense stepped up big, and the defense settled down. [Kicker] Dan Ennis came through. That’s just what we need for our first game.”

Maryland (1-0) may need more to beat Clemson (0-1) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium. But against the Midshipmen, it was enough. The inexperienced Terps seemed to gain poise as the game continued; they overcame an 11-point deficit and five lead changes and moved 82 yards on their final drive for the winning touchdown with 61 seconds remaining.

That poise could be seen all over. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach, making his second career start, completed a critical fourth-down pass to a reserve running back. Ennis looking terrible during practice in the days before the game but converted all three field goals. Senior running back Mario Merrills, making his first career start, finished with 149 yards on the ground.

The Terps might be a year away from challenging for the ACC championship, but they’re not going to be anyone’s chumps this season.

“We got something to build on,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We still have a lot of questions. We have to play better, [but] we had it when we needed it. We made some mistakes. Kids playing in their first game usually do, [but] one thing you can’t coach is heart. The kids showed that. Those are all good signs. Everything else can get corrected.”

After three weeks of steadily improving workouts, Hollenbach validated some rising expectations by improving to 2-0 as a starter. He shrugged off two early interceptions (one was a deflected ball that wasn’t his fault) and a steady pass rush to complete 19 of 30 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought Sam read the coverage pretty well, and the ball went to the right place,” Friedgen said. “I think he took major steps.”

The biggest was the fourth-and-8 play, a 20-yard reception by running back Lance Ball that set up the winning score a play later. Ball was supposed to be six yards downfield after chipping a defensive end. Instead, he hit the defender too hard and was a yard behind the line of scrimmage when he caught the ball. Ball evaded three defenders and scampered down the sideline to turn what seemed like a busted play into a big gain.

Hollenbach knew it was a gamble to throw so short of the chains, but the pass rush left no option. Hollenbach threw the ball, winced and hoped Ball would produce.

“Maybe it wasn’t the smartest decision on my part,” Hollenbach said. “But Lance made it look smart.”

Ball was an unlikely hero as Merrills’ backup. He didn’t have a reception until Saturday’s opening drive and entering the game had carried the ball just four times in two years in College Park. However, he ran four straight plays on the winning drive. Friedgen has talked glowingly about Ball for two years, and now it’s clear why.

“I know Lance is going to grow from that,” Friedgen said. “He’s going to play better next week because he made that play this week.”

Note — Receiver Derrick Fenner is questionable against Clemson after suffering a concussion against Navy.

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