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Terps, Mountaineers to meet at crossroads

September 15, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team will be going to the polls Saturday.

Even though it's a presidential election year, it won't be a matter of Democrat or Republican for the Maryland players. It's more a case of choosing to be a Terrapin.

The Terps head on the road for the first time this season, but it won't be any campaign stop. Maryland will be in Morgantown, W.Va., to face the No. 7-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers in a game which could be a benchmark for both teams even though it's early in the season.

"This is a big test," Maryland defensive end Kevin Eli said. "They are the No. 7 team in the nation. It's been a number of years since we have beaten a top-10 team. There's a time in the year when you have to step up. This is that time."

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It might be an afternoon at the crossroads when WVU hosts Maryland for the noon start on ESPN2. For Maryland, it will be a huge test of a young team in a hostile environment. For added incentive, Maryland will be trying to defeat a top-10 team for the first time since 1990, when the Terps beat No. 8 Virginia in the final game of the season.

For the Mountaineers, it is a measuring stick to see just how good they are. WVU will be facing a Maryland team which has had its number in the first three years of the Ralph Friedgen era. The Terps are 4-0 in the rivalry, outscoring WVU 153-51 in the stretch, including a 41-7 pounding at the 2004 Gator Bowl.

"We always have a lot of respect for them. I think regardless of where they are ranked, we know it's going to be a tough game," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "There are a lot of things that have gone right for us in those other games, and hopefully they will continue to go right."

The tables are turned for this meeting. In recent matchups, Maryland had been the higher-ranked team and WVU has been young and trying to make its mark. This time, the Terps are No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and have a number of unproven players.

"West Virginia basically has the same team back they had at the Gator Bowl. They are a junior/senior team," Friedgen said. "When you look at the people who have lettered, you see two or three letters next to everyone's name. They are a mature team. We have a lot of guys who haven't beat them. They haven't been in any of those other four games and most of them were watching at the Gator Bowl. We have 36 players with four years of eligibility left and they have basically the same team back."

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez doesn't agree with Friedgen's take.

"We haven't come close to beating them the last several times we've played them and they're just as talented as they've ever been and it looks like they're playing just as well," Rodriguez told MSNsportsNET on Sunday after WVU's 44-20 win over Central Florida, even though the Mountaineers have been established as a 6 1/2-point favorite. "Until we beat them I think they should be the favorites."

The longtime rivalry, which dates back to 1919, will continue with the 43rd meeting. The Terps own a 21-19-2 edge overall, thanks to the two victories last season.

But the rivalry is just an added feature to hype a game that both teams need.

"Right now, I'm looking at it as our next win," said Maryland running back Josh Allen. "It will be our most difficult game so far, and then after that we start the (Atlantic Coast Conference) and we have Duke. We have to keep building. Knocking them off just means a win. It's not because they are No. 7, but because it's our next game."

Allen's counterpart, WVU tailback Kay-Jay Harris, has been listed as a question mark for the game because of hamstring problems. Harris has become WVU's feature back, but left the Central Florida game after two carries because of his injury. He rushed for a school record 337 yards in WVU's season opener against East Carolina.

Maryland's defense, for one, would like a shot at Harris, for nothing more than to make the game a true test of the two teams while eliminating any excuses in case of a loss.

"He's a great running back. He's a north-and-south runner," Eli said. "He's hurt, but I hope he will play. I want to take their best shot. I want to face them with everyone so they give us their best shot. You want to face a team like that with all its weapons."

This trip to Morgantown could be the defining moment for the Terps.

"This is a great opportunity," Eli said. "It's more business this time. It's not much fun. This could be our season."

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