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Turning another corner

TheTerrapins face another make-or-break game this weekend.

TheTerrapins face another make-or-break game this weekend.

November 20, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Another rivalry week. Another crossroad.

The Maryland football team stands looking both ways at the intersection of Week 12 Avenue and Future Plans Parkway this week on its way to play Virginia. The Atlantic Coast Conference matchup is another pivotal stop sign leading to the turn that will define the Terrapins' 2002 season.

This game - along with some outside circumstances - will tell Maryland whether it will have the chance to tie for and defend its ACC championship, what bowl it might play in and if it can extend an eight-game winning streak which has moved the Terps to No. 18 in the nation.

But Maryland may have never been able to travel into this fashionable neighborhood if it didn't get past the speed bumps of a 1-2 start. The Terps got their driving permit on Oct. 5 at the first rivalry crossroads against West Virginia.

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"The West Virginia game was important for us," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "It was at a time when people were skeptical of the team. People didn't know what our perception was."

Maryland gave the world perception and itself a new confidence with a convincing 48-17 romp over the Mountaineers. It was not only the Terps' third win in the current string, but gave them a 4-2 record - which is much more impressive than the prospects of being 3-3.

It also gave the Maryland players some direction, which has mapped their way to this week's crossroad.

"In the beginning of the season, all people thought is we do things wrong," Maryland receiver Jafar Williams said. "After the two losses (to Notre Dame and Florida State), we got back to practice and worked on the little things. It all started to pay off. We got focused and good things started to happen."

A confidence sprouted for Maryland that Friedgen has carried from week one. It has sounded like an anthem or a broken record, but it is a position the second-year coach has stood with from the beginning.

"This is a young team. We are getting better each week. We are a team still developing," Friedgen said. "We are getting better and overcoming things."

Just like last season, Maryland had to buy into Friedgen's positive-thinking mode.

Afterall, the Terps were trying to follow up a 10-2 record with an untested quarterback and tailback Bruce Perry, 2001's ACC offensive player of the year, on the shelf with injuries.

Just as Perry was the poster child for Maryland's success last season, tailback Chris Downs may be the symbol of the Terps' success this season.

Downs entered the season listed fourth on Maryland's preseason depth chart but enters this week's game just five yards short of going over 1,000 for the season.

"(If you would have told me that before the season) I probably wouldn't have thought it could happen," Friedgen said of Downs' climb. "It's a tribute to coach Mike Locksley and Chris. I'm proud of him."

But it's also a piece of the Friedgen belief network. Players don't have to be playing to be a part in the winning process.

"Bruce (Perry) has done a lot to help him," Friedgen said. "They work together and talk. While Bruce was injured and standing on the sidelines, he was pulling for Chris. All these guys pull for each other. They go out and sacrifice themselves and their goals for the team goals. Last year, Bruce was the ACC player of the year and this year he has been hampered by injuries and he's now sharing a position. That's the intangible we have that maximizes our potential, and that is something that's tough to do, especially after having a winning season."

The selflessness has kept Maryland working and in contention at the latest crossroads with Virginia.

"Our confidence is high right now but we know that we aren't that good where we can just show up," Williams said. "We have to come to practice and work hard."

And no matter what happens this weekend, Friedgen won't worry about what could have been because what is has been pretty remarkable.

"I learned a long time ago not to look back, only look forward," he said. "Today and tomorrow ... that's all I can worry about."

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