Terps' mission accomplished

December 02, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A little incentive can be a dangerous thing.

But add a little embarrassment and anger to the whole mix and it becomes downright volatile.

Maryland's football team was on a mission Saturday. The unfortunate victim in the road was Wake Forest, which became the equivlent of roadkill after the Terps dismantled the Demon Deacons 32-14, mainly off a hugely-efficient first half.

How Maryland did it didn't matter. Why the Terps did it, well, that's probably the story.

On the surface, the reasons were rather obvious and read like a list coach Ralph Friedgen posted on the Terrapins' locker room door. Probably ranking on the top of the list was Nov. 23's loss to Virginia that cost the Terrapins dearly.

"We had a point to prove," Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "Last week, it was someone else out there. This won't completely erase the memory of losing to Virginia, but it puts it in the back of my mind."


Losing 48-13 to the Cavaliers ended Maryland's eight-game winning streak. It was the collateral damage of the implosion that lingered.

The loss cost Maryland a possible tie for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a possible return to the Bowl Championship Series spotlight.

But in reality, the defeat sent Maryland tumbling in the Top 25 poll again, allowed some self-doubt to enter the Terps' world, altered some of the national perception of the program and - maybe worse of all - took away what seemed to be Maryland's likely invitation to the Gator Bowl.

"This was a big game to get to a 10-win season. At the beginning of the year it didn't look that way," Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien said. "Unfortunately we got off to a 1-2 start. Our intention was to prove to the audience that last week wasn't the Maryland football team that they knew."

On the surface, members of Maryland's team say they were trying to save the face of its national reputation. The performance against Wake Forest was nothing more than the chance to prove to everyone the Terps had an off week.

But in the background of it all, the intensity behind Saturday's win was a mortar shot at Jacksonville, Fla., where the home office of the Gator Bowl is located.

According to the unofficial bowl game formula, the Gator Bowl is supposed to select the ACC's second-place team to play in its New Year's Day game. Bowl officials went against the grain last Tuesday, by extending its invitation to North Carolina State - the ACC's fourth-place team. The move jumped the Wolfpack past Maryland and Virginia and into the lucrative and prestigous slot.

"The Gator Bowl told us they were going to wait until Sunday and see how things went and then they changed their mind," Friedgen said. "This is a very special year. To win 10 football games, this team showed a lot of character despite losing last week. It came back and showed the country that this wasn't the team that they saw last week."

The win dropped Maryland into the waiting arms of the Peach Bowl, which the Terps now say was their desired destination all along.

"We came out and put on a good show," Henderson said. "To have the opportunity to play in a post-season game is a great accomplishment. To finish how we did was great for the seniors. Being in Atlanta on Dec. 31 will be great."

Maryland made no bones about wanting to play in the Peach Bowl, especially after the Gator Bowl turned its back on the Terps. Still, the Peach Bowl was the third option and only became the highest priority after Maryland stubbed its toe against Virginia.

But in a roundabout way, the Peach Bowl will be high drama for the Terps. While incentive, embarrassment and anger fueled the game against Wake Forest, now a case of irony and fate may take over for the Terrapins as it makes its march to Atlanta as it finishes a whirlwind tour for Maryland athletics in 2002.

"We went to the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day and the basketball team won (their national title) in Atlanta and now we are going to Atlanta," McBrien said. "Now we have to go and do our jobs down there. Last week, the Gator Bowl didn't work out so now we are looking forward to the Peach."

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