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Graduation Day

Terps are a grade above after win

Terps are a grade above after win

November 11, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - When the dust settled Saturday, all the Maryland football team did was finish the seventh week of Ralph Friedgen's 10-week self-realization class.

It was the end of an important grading period for the Terrapins. They had just knocked off No. 13 North Carolina State 24-21 on Nick Novak's last-minute 26-yard field goal, but the victory meant so much more.

The victory may have signaled that Maryland has finally arrived as a team to be reckoned with.

"I think our kids showed their character today," said Friedgen, Maryland's second-year coach. "We made mistakes and had penalties but kept battling through. It's the mark of a good team that can win - especially against another good team - when you're not playing your best."

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For the better part of three quarters, Maryland wasn't playing its best. North Carolina State seemed to move the ball at will against the Terps' defense. The Wolfpack ripped off yardage on short passes and hit on key plays to keep drives alive.

N.C. State did everything right except putting enough points on the scoreboard. That kept Maryland in the game. The Terps scored the last 17 points to pull out the win.

"(The comeback) speaks volumes for our players," Friedgen said. "It's a sign of winning. When you're losing, you pack it in. When you're winning, you don't ever think you're going to lose. You always believe something good is going to happen and you're going to pull it out. That's what makes winners and that's what makes losers."

And there, class, is Friedgen's lesson.

Maryland started the season with a 1-2 record - a huge disappointment after going 10-2 last year - and rode the express elevator out of the Top 25.

That's when school was in for the Terps. Friedgen called "do-over" and told Maryland after its third-week loss to Florida State to consider Sept. 21's game with Eastern Michigan as the season opener.

It became the start of the present seven-game win streak and the return to the Top 25 - the Terps are ranked 19th in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

"It was unfortunate to have the slow start, but we regained our focus," said Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien, who has been a huge figure in the Terps rejuvenation. "The guys on the scout teams have done a tremendous job. It's an all-team effort."

The victory was the product of the first meaningful fourth quarter the Terps have played in this season. Everyone of the Terps' games were lop-sided wins or losses by the time the last 15 minutes rolled around until Saturday.

"Everybody can blow somebody out when they are playing well, but the test is if you can play under pressure," Maryland defensive lineman Randy Starks said. "That's what we did today."

The reward for being gifted students in Ralph's College of Winning Knowledge, the Terps are moving into positions for some special things. Maryland is back in the chase for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and a shot at another Bowl Championship Series bid. All of that seemed out of the picture after Week 3.

"I think we're in (the ACC Championship race) now," Friedgen said. "Every game is going to be huge for us. I told the kids last night that it's like being in the playoffs. If you win, you keep playing for something really good. If you lose, you're going to have a good season, but you're not going to have a great season. I said, 'What do you want to be - good or great?'"

Maryland has to sweep its last three games and hope for some help to repeat last year. But now, especially after Saturday, Friedgen has the Terps believing that it could happen.

"November is all ACC games. Whenever you have an ACC opponent, it's always your biggest game," McBrien said. "We just need to keep the ball rolling. Every week we have to step it up a little bit, raise the bar, and play week after week like it's our biggest game."

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