- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

Until the frantic final minutes, Maryland’s football homecoming was a joyous thing yesterday at Byrd Stadium. The sun was shining, the Terrapins were bashing N.C. State and from somewhere nearby celebratory libations were calling softly to 50,230 eyewitnesses.

Then matters got a little rough as the Wolfpack rallied enough to make a game of it and send flutters through too many Maryland hearts. But at the finish, the Terps were winning 26-20 and re-establishing themselves neatly as legitimate contenders for the ACC title and a bowl invitation.

For a team that had been mostly unimpressive in beating three minor opponents, collapsing totally against West Virginia and needing a big second-half comeback to defeat lackluster Virginia, this victory was notable indeed.

These Terps probably won’t match the feats of coach Ralph Friedgen’s first three teams, which went 31-8 and decorated three bowl games, but neither do they resemble the 5-6 stumblers and bumblers of the last two seasons.

And while the Fridge isn’t quite ready to jump up and down over his sixth team at Terptown — a potentially awesome occurrence, given his considerable poundage — he apparently has no doubt at all that Maryland football is on the rebound. Asked after yesterday’s game whether he felt better about his current 5-2 squad than its immediate predecessors, Friedgen offered up heartfelt testimony.

“Oh yeah — it’s not even close,” he avowed. “They don’t quit. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of these kids. They just keep playing.”

Such a sunny attitude is liable to get the Fridge kicked out of the coaches’ union, as well as being a trifle premature. If you haven’t done so already, it would be prudent to wait at least a week before applying red and black paint to your face and possibly other areas.

Storming into Byrd Stadium on Saturday will be the Florida State Seminoles, who have smacked down the Terps 15 times in 16 engagements — including such embarrassments as 69-21, 52-20, 59-7, 48-10, 50-7 and … well, you get the idea. Maryland’s only win against the ‘Noles came two years ago, possibly while venerable coach Bobby Bowden and his minions were taking a nap.

Only one other opponent has treated the Terps as rudely. Penn State had a 35-1-1 record against Maryland when that series was discontinued in 1993, the Terps’ only victory coming the year John F. Kennedy became president, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and Vince Lombardi’s Packers won their first NFL title, meaning 1961.

This season Florida State’s usually potent offense has diminished so severely that the warrior on horseback who celebrates FSU TDs might as well find another job. Nonetheless the Seminoles pose a substantial barrier to Maryland’s continued improvement.

Despite their two-game winning streak, the Terps still have much to prove with ACC foes Clemson, Miami, Boston College and surprising Wake Forest following Florida State on the schedule. If you don’t believe it, consider N.C. State’s late threat yesterday.

With a 17-point lead, courtesy largely of a fumble recovery and interception that set up third-quarter touchdowns, the Terps appeared home free entering the final period. But then State’s Darrell Blackman transported a punt 65 yards to the Maryland end zone, and a bit later the Wolfpack drove 66 yards in six plays to chop its deficit to a nervous 26-20 with 58 seconds left.

It was then that the same specter rose up for every Maryland fan: Touchdown. Extra point. Defeat. But no, receiver Danny Oquendo wrapped his paws around the Wolfpack’s onside kick, and the Terps — no fools they — ran out the clock.

“It doesn’t have to be this hard,” Friedgen complained afterward. “It would have been a shame to lose.”

Well, rather. But as linebacker Wesley Jefferson put it, “We stepped up when we had to step up.”

Now the idea is to keep doing so.

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