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In face of adversity, Terps believed

October 31, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - When it came down to it, it was mind over matter for the Maryland football team.

And in the end on Saturday, the Terrapins proved they didn't mind when it mattered the most.

In 14 previous attempts, Maryland had failed to beat Florida State. The Seminoles were the toothache that came after biting in a jawbreaker when it came to the Terps' program. It only took 14 times, but coach Ralph Friedgen finally said, "Enough is enough."

"I challenged the team all the way back during the team banquet last February," an emotional Friedgen said Saturday. "I told them it was time we beat Florida State and I told them the only reason we hadn't beat Florida State was we didn't believe it. I kind of laid the gauntlet down right there."

On Saturday, the Terps - and now their rejuvenated fans - believed. Maryland stuffed Florida State's running game and exploited its speedy defense with a variety of pursuit plays to end the hex of the No. 5-ranked Seminoles, dumping them 20-17 before a packed house at Byrd Stadium.

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"Oh man, I feel a hell of a lot better than I did the last time I stood up here," Friedgen said. "I really don't know what to say. I feel blessed that we were able to win this game. I wanted the kids to feel what it's like to win this type of game. They've had some disappointments, especially last week. This is a major step in our program."

First and foremost, Maryland won back its doubters, ending a three-game losing streak which sent the Terps to their lowest point in the four-year Friedgen era at Maryland. It ended the Terps' 14-game trail of futility when it came to facing Florida State, which dated back to 1966 and included the first 12 meetings since the Seminoles joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In the process, it gave Maryland its first win over a top-10 team under Friedgen, a major stepping stone in his program's building process. The win was the first time in 15 years a Maryland team pulled such an upset. Meanwhile, it was only Florida State's eighth ACC loss since joining the conference.

Maybe the biggest factor of all was that everything that Friedgen believed he could get from this year's team crystallized down the stretch when the Terps sealed the game.

Maryland actually believed.

It took a lot of coaxing by Friedgen - some of it "kind of hokey" by his own estimates - and some efforts to put together the right game plan, but the Terps had the feeling. Nothing helped more than a 72-yard swing pass from quarterback Joel Statham to running back Josh Allen, who turned the simple play into a touchdown dash and gave Maryland a 20-10 third-quarter lead that Florida State couldn't overcome.

"I feel like I got my confidence back," Maryland quarterback Joel Statham said. "This win is big for me and for the team. After Josh scored that big touchdown, I felt like we got our swagger back ... kind of like we had last year. All we have to do is keep our heads up and score touchdowns. Once we got going and got off to a good start, I had my confidence and felt like I had to lead the people."

The majority of the job fell on Statham's shoulders, which is ironic considering the sophomore was tabbed as the villain in Maryland's recent setbacks. But Statham hung in and peppered Florida State for 333 yards passing and the Allen touchdown to find himself and lead the Terps to the most coveted of victories.

"He played probably 10 times better than they expected," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "He looked like an All-American out there tonight. (Maryland) played really well. I've been watching them and they played better than they had been playing. We hoped they wouldn't wake up."

The difference may have been the confidence campaign by Friedgen during the week. Facing a week with many injuries and a team reeling from its failures, the coach decided to work with the Terps' heads instead of their bodies.

"I kept telling them all week that we could do it and then the fans got into it," Friedgen said.

Friedgen launched the "I believe" campaign, turning the process into a telethon of sorts to drum up support.

"We had to go to our position coaches and sign a card saying that we believed we could win. When we did that, we got this shirt," said Statham, donning a gray T-shirt with red lettering, saying "I believe" on it.

Maryland jumped out to a 13-3 halftime lead, weathering the best shots Florida State had. With the lead in hand, it was time to send the telethon over the top.

"When we came in at halftme, I usually don't say anything to them until after we re-evaluate, but today I came in and told them, 'You need to finish this. You have to walk off the field with a win. You don't want to come off the field feeling like you did last week (after the last-minute 10-7 loss to Clemson).'"

Maryland stood its ground against a number of Florida State challenges in the second half, including the switch from starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton to Chris Rix in the fourth quarter. Florida State moved the ball, but it wasn't enough.

From there, everyone believed. The game ended with a flood of fans swarming the field to celebrate the long-awaited victory in a scene which rivaled 2001, when the Terps defeated Clemson to win a piece of the ACC title.

The Terps didn't walk off the field with the feeling of the Saturday before. In fact, they had trouble walking at all trying to get through the sea of celebrating fans.

"Every year, we have taken another step with coach Friedgen," Maryland defensive back Domonique Foxworth said. "No matter what happens the rest of the way, this is another step."

The Terps firmly believe it.

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