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Maryland earns a second chance

September 25, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - One second.

A click on the clock. ... That's all it takes to alter so many different things.

For the University of Maryland football team, a lot changed and yet stayed the same with :01 left on the Byrd Stadium scoreboard. The Terrapins may not want to admit it, but the final play in Saturday's 14-10 win over feisty Florida International may have been the one snap that makes or breaks the season.

Maryland is still standing - thanks to Christian Varner's interception at the 2 as time expired. The Terps moved to 3-1, heading into a bye week before the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the schedule begins. It was a game many - including oddsmakers - thought the Terps would win easily. Instead, they struggled and experienced a whole range of emotions from coach Ralph Friedgen on down.

"I played more conservative than I do regularly," said Friedgen, who doubles as Maryland's offensive coordinator. "I didn't want to screw up. I don't like that feeling."

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The whole thing came down to the very end. It wasn't supposed to, but it did.

Florida International got the ball at its 20 with 1:32 to play. After picking and chipping with short plays, the Golden Panthers were faced with a second-and-10 situation at their 46 with 10 seconds remaining.

Quarterback Josh Padrick launched a Hail Mary pass, and receiver Chand Williams somehow outjumped three Maryland defenders and pulled in the ball while falling out of bounds for a 45-yard reception.

It set the scene with the game in the balance. It was first-and-goal for FIU at Maryland's 9 with that one stubborn second left on the clock. It was final-exam time for the Terps.

"That puts your heart in your throat, but you can't get down," Maryland linebacker Wesley Jefferson said. "We knew they were going to go long and they caught the ball. We just didn't give up."

Maryland couldn't afford to. Hanging in the balance was not only what would have been an embarrassing loss to an unheralded opponent, but it also would make the quest for a bowl berth all the more difficult. The schedule gets more difficult from here and the difference between winning three and four games to become bowl eligible is significant.

So, the Golden Panthers' final play called on a whole different set of emotions for the Terps. Especially to players like tailback Josh Allen.

All Allen could do was stand on the sideline and watch everything unfold. He contributed to the lead with a touchdown off a screen pass, but it almost went for naught. About all he could do was become a little spiritual.

"My heart almost dropped," Allen said. "It seemed like we had it sealed up and then that big play gave them a little more life. All kinds of fluke things can happen by the goal line. There was a little panic. All I could do was sit there, hold hands with my teammates, pray and have confidence."

Maryland got a rush on Padrick, forcing him to move right out of the pocket. He misfired the pass low and right into Varner's arms to end the last-gasp threat.

After releasing a collective sigh of relief, the Terps realized a few things need to change if they are going to be serious about surviving in the ACC and reach that bowl bid.

"We have to play better and quit playing to the level of our competition," Jefferson said.

"We need to score more than 14 points for the offense," said Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who had "one of those nights" according to Friedgen. "We have a defense which is going to keep us in games, but we have to make it easier for them. The defense made a statement tonight."

But most of all for the Terps, that 1 second gave them what could be considered a second chance.

"I'm going to watch the tape (Sunday) and meet with the team (today)," Friedgen said of the off-week plans. "We'll do what we got to do to get better. I think this could be a good team. I have a tremendous belief in these kids ... probably more than they do in themselves."

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