- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

The grumbles grew in recent weeks, questioning Maryland’s propensity to surrender long plays. The problem was glaring, sometimes enough to overshadow victories and always enough to create concern when anyone viewed the Terrapins’ long-term viability.

Rather than tuning out the growing chorus, Wesley Jefferson simply wanted to provide an emphatic answer to those worries as Maryland opened the second half of its season.

“All we hear about is the defense,” Jefferson said. “I was down there in the locker room and I said ‘We have six games left. Why don’t we just turn this around? Why don’t we start really giving it to people? Why don’t we start getting after people?’”

Consider it done, at least in Maryland’s 26-20 victory against N.C. State yesterday at Byrd Stadium. The defense created three turnovers in the second half — including a pair on the Wolfpack’s first two plays from scrimmage after halftime — to move the Terps (5-2, 2-1 ACC) within a game of bowl eligibility.

But as it inevitably is with Maryland, victory didn’t come without a scare. A 17-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter was frittered to six before the Terps killed the clock with four kneeldowns in the final minute.

Consider it an appropriate denouement for a team whose coach is known to clutch a rosary at critical junctures.

“I think we played our best game to date, but we made it close, though,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “It doesn’t have to be this hard.”

It also was a bit unusual. The Terps only passed nine times against 41 runs, and the 82 percent run ratio was the greatest since Friedgen took over in 2001.

Maryland ran 77.8 percent of the time against North Carolina in 2002, a game that featured only 14 Terps passes — another previous Friedgen low.

Maryland was never in position to need to pass. It built a 6-0 lead at halftime, calling on kicker Dan Ennis after two drives stalled inside the 20. There were no such problems early in the third quarter, when the defense set up two quick scoring opportunities.

N.C. State’s Andre Brown gashed the Terps for a 16-yard gain on the first play of the second half, but Marcus Wimbush and David Holloway helped poke the ball loose before Wimbush fell on it. Maryland capitalized four plays later when Sam Hollenbach dumped off a pass under pressure to Josh Allen, who dived in for the Terps’ first touchdown.

The Wolfpack (3-4, 2-2) handed it back on their next play when quarterback Daniel Evans threw a pass straight at Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson. Just a minute later, Lance Ball rumbled untouched into the end zone from two yards out for a 20-0 lead.

“That made the game for us,” Henderson said of the converted turnovers.

It should have anyway. The Terps continued to harass Evans, sacking him four times after generating only three sacks in their last four games. And when Maryland forced the Wolfpack to punt with 10:27 left, it seemed a victory was assured.

Instead, the Terps quickly punted it back to N.C. State’s Darrell Blackman, who returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. And after trading turnovers, Maryland’s offense again drove inside the 20. With Hollenbach still thriving as a handoff machine, the Terps made it to the Wolfpack 1 before Ennis was called upon again with 1:55 left after Friedgen considered trying for a touchdown.

“I’m glad I kicked the field goal,” Friedgen said. “I didn’t want to. Reason prevailed. My testosterone lost.”

It was a wise choice. The Terps’ pass coverage, so solid for much of the day, crumpled as the Wolfpack scored in less than a minute. However, Danny Oquendo corralled N.C. State’s onside kick to secure a suddenly tenuous game for Maryland.

“I’m thinking the same thing Coach is thinking — ‘Wow, I’m getting kind of nervous,’” tailback Keon Lattimore said. “We had a pretty comfortable lead the whole game. We got it done, and that’s what counts.”

So do the five victories, which place Maryland within a win of likely ending a two-year postseason drought. The finishing stretch — which starts Saturday at Byrd against struggling Florida State — figured to define the Terps’ season when camp commenced in August.

It still does.

“We’re getting a lot of mileage out of these kids,” Friedgen said. “They come to play every week. I see them getting better and hopefully we get some momentum right now. We get another win next week, who knows where we can go?”

Notes — Friedgen said linebacker Rick Costa suffered a partially dislocated shoulder in the third quarter. Friedgen also said Wimbush, a safety, aggravated a knee injury. “We’re starting to get low on people,” Friedgen said. “That’s my only concern.” …

Saturday’s home game against Florida State will start at 7 p.m. and be televised by ESPN2.

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