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Terps' reality not merely an illusion

November 14, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team's post-game news conference Saturday was almost fitting of a time slot on the Sci-Fi Channel.

It was time to explain the unexplainable. Suddenly, all the dreams and goals from the preseason weren't an illusion anymore. They were pretty close to reality.

There was a lot of talk about what the No. 21 Terrapins (8-2, 5-1 ACC) were trying to accomplish this season. The rhetoric was heavy about where they wanted to head. But now that the bigger goals are here, it was almost rendering the Terps speechless.

"I don't know what to tell you. I'm living a good life," said an ecstatic, yet almost shocked, coach Ralph Friedgen after Maryland held on for a 14-13 victory over Miami at Byrd Stadium. "The ball is bouncing our way right now. There was a period when it wasn't bouncing our way.

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"I really had my doubts tonight. I had to squeeze it out of them. We made some mistakes that we shouldn't make. We missed some assignments. All in all, that's No. 8. That's the bottom line."

Goals are usually guidelines placed on seasons to keep teams striving ahead. But most of them are like cruise control. Almost everyone has one, but rarely are they used.

Maryland was a young team with the standard goals for the 2006 season - have a winning record, qualify for its first bowl game in three years, win the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division title, play in and win the ACC Championship Game for the right to play in the Orange Bowl as the ACC's Bowl Championship Series representative. Coaches often add the play as a team, make few mistakes and improve every week and every game as guideline goals to reach the bigger ones.

The Terps have knocked down the first two on the list. They have a winning season sealed and have qualified for a bowl. Now they are two wins away from winning the Atlantic Division and heading to the championship game Dec. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla., against Georgia Tech. And that makes them three wins away from the ACC title and the BCS designation.

First, the Terps must win at Boston College on Saturday and beat Wake Forest on Nov. 25

Maryland has reached this point by winning five straight ACC games by a total of 13 points. In fact, their eight wins have been by a total margin of 51 points, less than a touchdown per victory. The Terps have eight wins despite only outscoring their opponents by 19 points, 220-201.

"We've been put in that situation so many times, it's become second nature," said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson.

Still, as confident as Friedgen has been with this team, he was still having problems explaining it all.

"I don't know how else to explain it. It's miraculous. It really is," Friedgen said about the win over Miami. "Well, it was just another day at Byrd Stadium. I'm lucky I'm a guy of faith. We got some breaks tonight. Our kids played hard but I think we weren't as emotionally high as we have been. We were able to make two big plays and that was enough to win the football game. It was kind of an old-fashioned football game."

The big plays were there.

Maryland won despite Miami controlling the ball for nearly a quarter more in time. The Terps were outgained (320-258) and allowed the Hurricanes to convert 13 of 21 third-down plays. But Miami equaled it all out by settling for two field goals instead of touchdowns - one after dropping a sure touchdown pass in the end zone - having a pass deflected for an interception and fumbling away a punt in the last 74 seconds to seal the loss.

Adding to Maryland's turnaround is the lack of turnovers. The Terps have taken the ball away eight times in the last five games while giving it up only three times - none on Saturday. It's a far cry from when they were 3-2 after turning it over 13 times in the first five games while taking just six away.

"It's crazy. God is on our side," said Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach. "We have been blessed with fortunate bounces. We have been winning some of the big moments. That has been the big thing with Coach. Those things are what you need to win games like this."

Still, there is an intangible that has made a difference between reaching for a goal and coming close to obtaining it.

But what is it?

"I don't know. We are just finding a way," said Maryland tailback Lance Ball. "I don't know where it is coming from. We just go out there and fight. We're just hanging in there. Good teams get good breaks and that's what we are getting right now."

Friedgen is voting for maturity as a reason.

"Here's a team, that when we started the year, had a confidence problem," Friedgen said. "So I'm out there at the end of the game telling them, 'Here's one of those moments.' And they go, 'Coach, don't worry about it. We got this covered.' Now they're getting cocky. But they got it done. That's kind of a nice thing to see. You have success, and then you become confident."

And for whatever reason, explained or unexplained, Maryland is close to completing their preseason checklist of goals.

"It's pretty clear of what's at stake," Hollenbach said. "The goal all along has been to be on the top of the ACC. That's where we are at right now."

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