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Victory gives College Park familiar good vibes

October 04, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

A funny thing happened at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.

Cinderella fit into a football cleat.

On the surface, there might not be anything princely or charming about the University of Maryland's homecoming victory over Virginia, except it could turn the Terps into the belles of the Atlantic Coast Conference ball.

Maryland has been struggling for an identity all season. The Terrapins are young. They are inexperienced. They lost many players from the successful team from two years ago.

In essence, it looked like a long season of rebuilding.

But something changed on Saturday. Maryland allowed more than 400 yards of offense, but it won and that counted more than anyone could imagine.

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"This is a big win. I'm hoping that this will give the young guys some confidence," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I told the kids that until they achieve, they don't know. Once you do it on the field, you know what you can do."

Maryland did it on the field Saturday.

Over the course of the first four weeks of the season, Friedgen kept saying that this Terrapins team was going to be good. He didn't know just when it would happen.

It may have shown signs of coming of age.

The Terps unloaded big offensive numbers against a Virginia defense which was rated in the top 20 in the nation. The Maryland defense didn't make a trademark stand, but it did slow the Cavaliers down enough to give the Terps a working margin.

And they won.

At home - which might be the biggest positive yet.

Maryland had been a team which prided itself on defending its home field. But in the first two home games, two possible victories got away.

While Friedgen stood holding his candle of hope in the darkness, it seemed like it would flicker away soon.

But then came Saturday. In many ways, it was a great "feel good" victory for the players. But more over, it was a huge feel-great victory for the Maryland fans, specifically the on-campus students.

The red-clad fans poured onto the field after the victory. Some had designs on taking down a goalpost or two, but security played defensive line to stop that notion.

Instead, the time was spent milling around the players, almost bonding with them as they congratulated them for a victory against a hated rival. The players, wearing black uniforms for this special occasion, stood in the crowd to take in the spoils that came with the victory.

The students stood at the mouth of the fieldhouse entrance chanting "Hollenbach ... Hollenbach ... Hollenbach," trying to get Maryland's quarterback, who had thrown for a career-high 320 yards, to come back out.

There was a feeling going on just like there was during Friedgen's first three years on campus that produced an ACC title and three bowl appearances.

"We need to win six games to be bowl eligible," Friedgen said. "I told the players we needed to win four of the last seven. This is one and now we need three more. We came into this second in our division. You (reporters) are a lot of naysayers. I hope this win gives us a lot of confidence and maturity. I'm still looking for us to be in Jacksonville (to play in the first ACC title game). We are going to be a success in this program and I'm promising more bowl games."

The Terps act like they are starting to believe. Saturday's win may have captured the imagination of their fans, too.

"It would have been tough for us if we didn't win this one," Friedgen admitted. "We got this under our belt and beat a good team. The kids were worried. It is tough to lose games at our house. They felt like they were letting our fans down."

Things are starting to look up. Maryland is now 3-2 overall.

It may not seem like much, but the Terps started 0-2 in 2003 and Friedgen made a huge deal of a game at Eastern Michigan which made that team 3-2. That was part of a streak in which Maryland won 10 of 11 games, including a victory over West Virginia in the 2004 Gator Bowl.

Those were heady days back then, but Saturday was the day when Maryland's players - and fans - might have begun believing it could happen again.

No telling what will happen to Maryland from here on out, but Oct. 1, 2005 should be marked down as possibly the signature date of the Terps' season, and quite possibly the future of the program.

It provides a comfortable fit in that shoe of college football royalty.

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