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Terrapins control their bowl destiny

November 19, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - If this would be a party, the University of Maryland could have said it showed up fashionably late.

In social circles, that's perfectly acceptable. But in football seasons, showing up late leaves you in an uphill battle.

Thus is the plight of the Terrapins, who must work extra hard just to make sure they are able to throw their own holiday party - preferably on New Year's Day.

For all intents and purposes, the Terps have lurked in the background but never left their presence felt until Nov. 1 in a 59-21 win over North Carolina.

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"We played well of late. The defense has played well all year and the offense has played better in the last two games," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "When we put it together, we are a well-rounded team."

Offensive struggles have left the Terps in their present situation. They have to defeat North Carolina State and Wake Forest in the final two weeks to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

If Maryland finishes second, it means a probable invitation to the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2004. The reward lessens if the Terps lose one or both of the games.

"I told the players that destiny is in our hands. If we win the next two games, we can play in a New Year's Day bowl," Friedgen said. "If we lose one, we'll be in a bowl, but we don't know where we will be playing. If we lose both, we go nowhere. We have to play them one at a time and things will work out and if it doesn't, then we had opportunities."

Maryland realized it was starting to lose those opportunities on Oct. 23, after the nationally televised 7-3 loss to Georgia Tech. The season and a possible postseason bid hung in the balance. At 5-3, the Terps didn't own a lot of wiggle room.

The change of the calendar, along with some tough soul searching after losing to Georgia Tech, seemed to put the Terps back on track.

"Teams can be fragile sometimes, even though there are times that we are really strong," said punter Adam Podlesh. "Coach always says it's a short walk to the outhouse. You can win any game and lose any game, it all depends on how we are mentally and how well we prepared."

The Terps had maximum time and rest to get ready for the vital bowl run of November. Thanks to scheduling and two Thursday dates in a three-game span, the Terps have only played three times in the last 32 days.

"We have to show the rest of the world that we are a good football team," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "Coach stresses we have to win in November or else it doesn't matter."

The last two games in November have all the importance in the world to the Terps. A sweep guarantees Maryland second place in the ACC. But that won't be easy for the Terps, who struggle away from Byrd Stadium, as their 1-3 record will attest.

"We have to go and play good on the road," defensive tackle Kevin Eli said. "We haven't done that this year."

Maryland's play away from home got it in this next-thing-to-desperate situation. Despite the inconsistent play, the Terps still had a faint flicker of hope to win a piece of the ACC title, but it was blown out on Saturday in Florida State's overtime win over N.C. State.

Now it's up to the Wolfpack to play spoilers to the Terps ... but Maryland doesn't have to look very far to affix blame for the situation.

"(The N.C. State game) could go down a number of different ways," Jackson said. "We just have to take care of business. If we lose out, ultimately, we didn't take care of business. We take the responsibility (of being in this situation) upon ourselves."

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