- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen slept on the eve of his home opener against James Madison with thoughts of overtime, a third down and a thrilling moment for his true freshman kicker floating through his mind.

Nick Ferrara made Friedgen’s dreams come true - and bailed the Terrapins out of a sticky spot in the process.

Ferrara’s 26-yard field goal in overtime lifted Maryland to a 38-35 victory, a dicey result featuring no shortage of problems and hardly the greatest harbinger for long-term success.

Nonetheless, Maryland (1-1) escaped what would have been the nadir of Friedgen’s nine-year tenure, twice erasing a touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter for an unconventional victory.

“Our kids hung in there and found a way to win,” Friedgen said. “That’s a positive. It really kind of tested them and they saw really who they were. If we had won big, we’d never know about that.”

That’s certainly the sunny way of looking at things, but the victory certainly cannot mask many of the problems the Dukes (0-1) exposed. James Madison ran for 268 yards, frequently flummoxing the Terps with its spread option scheme. And the Dukes scored twice in the second half off turnovers, helping to rally from an early 15-point deficit.

Much of that, the Terps believe, is correctable. What cannot be fixed - certainly not in time for the next 10 games - is the broken tibia cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered in the fourth quarter. The senior, a natural fit for Maryland’s aggressive defense, is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Carroll departed with the Terps down 35-28, and it seemed the Dukes would follow the lead of conference brethren Richmond and William & Mary and take down an ACC opponent to start the season. Yet the Maryland defense held, giving quarterback Chris Turner a chance to make amends for an interception James Madison’s Jon Williams brought back 38 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

And so Turner did. Facing a crucial fourth down, he connected with Ronnie Tyler for 20 yards. On the next play, he found Adrian Cannon for a 27-yard score to forge a tie.

The score held into overtime, when James Madison kicker Dixon Wright pushed a 41-yard attempt to the right. Five plays later it was Ferrara’s turn to try the first game-winning or overtime attempt of his life.

“When I went out there the first time, I was a little shaky and nervous. And then they called a timeout and I was like, ‘What am I nervous for? It’s a chip shot. It’s fine,’ ” Ferrara said.

It is with such admirable and blissful ignorance that Maryland endured a fitful night when things didn’t always go right. It wasn’t that way early, when Maryland built a 21-6 lead behind a steady offense and Torrey Smith’s 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown - the Terps’ first at home since 1999.

But James Madison, determined to use a two-quarterback approach and to make things miserable for the Terps while pursuing their first defeat of a major-college opponent since 1990, never faded. The Dukes pulled within 21-14 at halftime, and quarterback Drew Dudzik’s masterful use of the option confounded the Maryland defense all night.

“They came in here and they just kept running their stuff,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “They didn’t care what the score was. They kept running their offense, and we had some breakdowns. I think we’re going to learn from them.”

Such is the mantra for Maryland, which has no shortage of things to figure out. With both Carroll and Jamari McCollough (left ankle) injured, the Terps must retool a once-imposing secondary. Tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) also missed Saturday night’s game, and left guard Bennett Fulper became the first true freshman to start at one of the line’s three interior positions in Friedgen’s tenure.

The evening was a demonstration of how much value Turner possesses as well. Despite the patchwork line, he still completed 25 of 38 passes for 236 yards, and he also ran for a score.

The win made Friedgen out to be a victor and soothsayer simultaneously. The coach likely doesn’t want his predictive powers - nor his nerves - tested in such a harrowing way going forward.

Same goes for the freshman kicker, who leapt with joy after helping to save his team from heaps of embarrassment so early in the season without knowing just what Friedgen had envisioned 24 hours earlier.

“He didn’t tell me anything about that during the game, and I’m happy he didn’t,” Ferrara said. “Just think about it. Someone tells you that and you’re going to be thinking the whole game, ‘Oh God, now I have a game-winner I have to do. What happens if I do it wrong and his dream’s ruined?’ ”

Never fear. The Terps got their happy ending - for this week, at least.

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