- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. — There was a sense last night’s Champs Sports Bowl might provide a hint of what was to come next season for the Maryland football program

If so, the Terrapins are off to a fine start for 2007.

Maryland blitzed Purdue 24-7 before 40,168 at the Florida Citrus Bowl, capping a resurgent season with perhaps its most complete performance of the season.

Bowl MVP Sam Hollenbach threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns and Lance Ball ran for 98 yards for the Terps (9-4), who won in their first bowl appearance in three seasons.

“I couldn’t think of a better way,” Hollenbach said. “Just the whole week being in Orlando was awesome. We had so much fun, and just to be able to come out and win the bowl game and have our fans and family down here and to be able to go celebrate with them, it feels great.”

Added Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen: “I’m just happy we went out and played like we practice. I’m really proud. People got down on them, but they kept hanging in there and kept working. They just played a heck of a football game.”

The victory sent Hollenbach and a dozen other seniors out on a positive note, a particularly satisfying result for a group that endured two straight losing seasons before this year’s turnaround.

Yet many of the Terps’ key figures in last night’s rout will be back. Freshmen Cory Jackson and Darrius Heyward-Bey both scored first-half touchdowns, and sophomore linebacker Erin Henderson forced a third-quarter fumble to quash a budding rally by the Boilermakers (8-6).

“On the bus over, you could see in guys eyes we wanted a win,” Heyward-Bey said. “You wanted to finish off 9-4, not 8-5. Scoring points early gave our offense a chance to hold the ball and run down the clock and win the game.”

Maryland was a statistical oddity throughout the season, a team outgained in its final 11 games. Its defense ranked 89th nationally of 119 teams, its offense 96th. Even Friedgen admitted luck played a role in the Terps’ success in an unusual series of close games.

There were no smoke and mirrors needed against Purdue, which lived down to the reputation of its 114th-ranked defense and was outgained 429-285.

There were signs early the Terps would follow the same formula of building an early lead leaving the rest up to the defense that carried them to five straight conference victories in the middle of the season. Maryland scored first when Hollenbach found Joey Haynos in the front of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to cap a run-heavy drive.

The Terps’ next drive was just as workmanlike. Hollenbach, at ease throughout the half, completed a pair of slants to extend the possession as part of Maryland’s night-long success (9-of-17) on third down. Jackson finished it off with a 1-yard dive for his first career touchdown.

It was part of a remarkably busy day for Jackson, the only true freshman to play for the Terps this season. Maryland’s fullbacks combined for one carry in the last three seasons, but Jackson had four carries to go alongside his 23-yard touchdown catch.

In similar junctures this season, Friedgen usually resorted to a conservative offensive approach for the rest of the game. Last night, Hollenbach lofted a perfectly placed pass to Heyward-Bey, who caught it in stride on a fly route and took two steps for a 46-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead, matching the Terps’ largest of the season set in September against Middle Tennessee.

“Sam just made it happen and made a great throw on it,” Friedgen said. “That might be the best throw he ever threw in his life. I thought I was watching [John] Elway there with how that looked.”

The Boilermakers’ vaunted spread offense managed little for much of the first half, set back by a rash of penalties and dropped passes. Purdue had one drive of substance, but kicker Chris Summers lined a 42-yard field goal attempt well short of the end zone.

Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter did deliver a quick scoring drive just before halftime, and Maryland stalled to open the second half. Yet on the Boilermakers’ first play of the third quarter, Henderson stripped receiver Dorien Bryant after a 31-yard gain. Wesley Jefferson recovered the fumble and a few minutes later, Dan Ennis kicked a 22-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead.

From there, the Terps simply asphyxiated Purdue, hoarding possession for much of the half thanks to a solid rushing attack and Hollenbach’s deft decision-making. The Boilermakers, who had the ball only 20:12, never established a ground attack against Maryland’s often suspect rush defense. Painter, meanwhile, was frequently hurried and badgered in the pocket.

It was a performance Maryland direly wanted after finishing the regular season with a two-game losing streak that cost it a shot at an ACC title.

“Ending the season with two losses was hard to swallow and it was hard for us not to be in the ACC championship game playing for that title,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “We came out here and played great football. Other than that last drive on defense, we played a heck of a game. We came and played our best.”

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