Friday, August 29, 2003

DEKALB, Ill. — The ball bounced the wrong way last night for Maryland’s football team — literally.

A pass that deflected off Terrapins receiver Latrez Harrison was intercepted to seal Northern Illinois’ stunning 20-13 upset of No.15 Maryland.

The Terps blew a 13-10 late lead, then forced overtime by blocking the Huskies’ last-second field goal attempt. However, Northern Illinois gained its third victory ever over a ranked team on Josh Haldi’s 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dan Sheldon before a record 28,018 at Huskie Stadium.

Cornerback Randee Drew then picked off Scott McBrien’s pass to end Maryland’s desperate last-ditch bid.

“I thought we were ready to play, and we didn’t,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We didn’t make plays when we had opportunities. I knew it would be a close game. I knew that all summer.”

Said McBrien: “We were prepared for it. I guess they wanted it. They deserve the victory. We just have to prepare for next week.”

Maryland will visit Florida State on Sept.6 for a key ACC game. Unless the Terps quickly improve, their chances of beating the Seminoles for the first time seem slim. An 0-2 start also would also make any major bowl date improbable in what was supposed to be a promising year.

Maryland used cornerback Domonique Foxworth’s sixth career interception early in the fourth quarter to set up kicker Nick Novak’s 50-yard field goal with 9:10 remaining. Maryland safety Curtis Williams then blocked Steve Azar’s 43-yard attempt for Northern Illinois with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Terps entered with their highest preseason ranking since 1985, but their offensive sizzle quickly fizzled after they took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive.

Dropped passes plagued the Terps early and prevented a chance for a dominating early lead. Maryland lacked a consistent inside game as running back Josh Allen found few holes, the offense sputtered on the deep passing routes and was hampered by penalties. The Terps also couldn’t turn medium-range plays into long gains, though McBrien fared best on quick passes for 10 yards or more.

Maryland’s defense did a sound job against Northern Illinois running back Michael Turner, holding the Huskies’ Heisman Trophy hopeful to 90 yards on 30 carries. However, he gained 37 of them during a late fourth-quarter drive for the tying field goal, and his 41-yard reception set up a touchdown.

Haldi was 21-for-35 for 266 yards and two TDs. Northern Illinois receiver P.J. Fleck had 12 receptions for 113 yards.

The teams traded big plays in the close game. Maryland used 50- and 46-yard field goals in the second half by Novak for to gain its 13-10 lead until Azar tied it with 1:12 remaining on a 26-yard kick.

Maryland began with a 58-yard scoring drive capped by Allen’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 8:43 left in the first quarter. The Terps used their near 40-pound advantage on the offensive line to manhandle the Huskies and steadily spring Allen.

McBrien also found a mismatch in single coverage on the outside to twice hit receiver Jafar Williams for 8- and 11-yard gains as Maryland regularly went to three- and four-receiver sets.

However, Allen’s fumble after a first-down catch led to Azar’s school-record 52-yard field goal. Northern Illinois then grabbed a 10-7 edge with 7:15 remaining in the first half on receiver P.J. Fleck’s diving 5-yard touchdown catch from Josh Haldi in the right corner. Fleck earlier caught a 35-yarder followed by 41-yard run by Turner that would have been a score if not for an open-field tackle by Maryland safety Madieu Williams.

The Terps clearly missed injured returner Steve Suter late in the first half. Northern Illinois was forced to punt from its own end zone, but Maryland couldn’t manage a big return and was also called for blocking below the waist.

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