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Terps search for meaning in final game

November 26, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - All that's left of the University of Maryland football season resembles the leftovers from Thursday's turkey.

There is very little left on the bones, but with a little creativity you can make something fulfilling out of the scraps.

The most appetizing thing left for the Terps is Saturday's finale against Wake Forest at Byrd Stadium. Maryland has been starving for positive feedback for most of the season, which makes this formality of a game into a seven-course meal of possibilities.

"It's not a meaningless game. Let's make that point clear," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen emphatically said. "There is a big difference between being 4-7 and 5-6 and winning your last game - whether it's your last game ever or your last game of the season or your last game in Byrd Stadium - is something that always stays in your memory.

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"A win on Saturday will carry us into the off-season and make us feel good about ourselves. I don't think it's a meaningless game. It has a lot of meaning."

Just how meaningful is a matter of opinion.

In the big picture, Saturday's matchup with the Demon Deacons is nothing more than a pre-Christmas shopping matinee. Both teams are young and neither will be heading to a bowl game this season. It will be a case of playing out the string and getting an early start on weight-room sessions for next season.

But for Maryland, the game is a final chance to get back a winning swagger that came up lame in 2004. It is also an audition of sorts for some players, including quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who will jump from third string to the starting position ahead of Joel Statham and the injured Jordan Steffey.

The game has also become a way for the Terps to make things right for all the shortcomings of the season.

"The most important thing now is to win," said Maryland place kicker Nick Novak. "Nobody is happy with the way things turned out. This wasn't the way we planned for it to happen. All we can do now is get the guys to focus to get better."

Consistency - or the lack there of - has been the issue for the Terps. The offense has sputtered through the final seven games of the season. Statham was never able to create a consistent passing attack and the running game hasn't been a big enough factor to help take some pressure off the first-year starter. In fact, the majority of Maryland's offense was learning while it played.

"When I think it over, it is all chemistry," offensive lineman C.J. Brooks said. "We had a new quarterback and with all the injuries, it was hard to get in a flow. We had some normal tendencies but they weren't normal. We all have goals that we wanted to achieve."

The abnormal play has been something new in the Friedgen era at Maryland. Friedgen made instant winners out of the players he inherited from coach Ron Vanderlinden's program, but almost all of them are gone. Now, Friedgen is teaching all his players from scratch and not all of them have picked up on the system.

"Our chemistry has been off because of all the new players," senior receiver Rich Parson said. "It's shocking when you think about the ability on this team and how the players wanted it. The intangible you need is unity. Everyone has to be together. We have a lot of guys who are doing their best to win, but they aren't doing it as a team."

The Wake Forest game becomes a possible clearinghouse of problems that the Terps have suffered through the season. It becomes the final game for a number of seniors and a last chance for younger players to find unity.

"This is the chance for this team to get back some morale," Parson said. "Right now, it's frustrating. We need to win and that's the only outcome we can have to end the season right."

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