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Terps, 'Pack lock in bowl game playoff

November 26, 2005|By KEITH PARSONS

RALEIGH, N.C. - Here's a game any proponent of a playoff in Division I-A football could love - Maryland vs. North Carolina State.

Sure, neither team figures in the race for the national championship, but today's matchup essentially is one of elimination. The loser goes home for the holidays, while the winner likely advances to play in a bowl.

And as an added bonus, both missed the postseason a year ago.

"Here we are, 5-5, playing to become bowl eligible in the last game of the year," Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato said. "The players know it, the coaches know it, the whole university system knows it."

This is particularly important to him and Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen. Each returned to his alma mater with the hopes of turning around the programs, and for the most part, both have been successful.

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Amato became only the fourth coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history to take his first four teams to a bowl, and Friedgen is the winningest fourth-year coach in conference history. Now, one of them can point to a resurgence after his first down year.

"As far as the program is concerned, it continues our momentum, but if we don't get it, it's not going to stop altogether," Friedgen said. "We have a young team and they're still going to be good."

Not so long ago, the Terps (5-5, 3-4 ACC) looked very much on their way this season. An easy victory at Temple - their fourth in the first six games - left their goal well within reach. Win two more games and Maryland was bowl eligible.

But consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and to Florida State preceded an overtime victory at North Carolina, and when Boston College won last week, the Terps were left at .500.

The Wolfpack (5-5, 2-5) took a different path to this point, winning three of their past four games to move on the cusp of a return to the postseason. To complete the comeback, they must snap a six-game home losing streak in the conference.

"This is the biggest game we're going to play," said N.C. State center Leroy Harris, one of 20 seniors playing his final game at Carter-Finley Stadium. "It's going to be a heated game for both of us, especially since they're going through the same thing right now."

Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach just hopes to bounce back from one of the worst games of his career. Yes, he finished 25-for-45 for 230 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Eagles, but he also had three turnovers.

His fumble was returned for a touchdown by BC's Jolonn Dunbar, and Ray Henderson took back one of Hollenbach's two interceptions 35 yards for another score. Those defensive TDs were largely responsible for the Terps' falling short again at home - they finished 1-4 in the not-so-friendly confines of Byrd Stadium.

"It was the toughest weekend I had in college, mentally and physically," Hollenbach said. "I guess it comes down to, I'm not going to get any better by focusing on that. I'm trying to put it behind me and look ahead to N.C. State."

Whoever gets that coveted sixth victory likely will earn it. This rivalry has featured excruciatingly close games over the previous five seasons, with the Wolfpack's 13-3 decision a year ago a veritable rout.

That was their first Maryland loss since the turn of the century, and the average margin between the two schools since 2000 is 5.2 points. Oh, and N.C. State leads the all-time series 29-28-4.

"Whether we win or lose on Saturday, I'm going to have the same feeling about this team," Friedgen said. "I've been pleased with how they've worked. I think they deserve to win Saturday, but win or lose, I appreciate their effort for the whole year, and that's not going to change."

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