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Terps' happy ending has to wait

November 27, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The best of times quickly became the worst of times for the University of Maryland football team.

For an entire season, the Terrapins struggled for the opportunity to enjoy some success. In the long run, that success may have been their undoing. That thirst for success is often unquenchable.

But the well ran dry for the Terps on Saturday as Wake Forest used its sweeping style of a running attack to claim a 38-24 victory to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title and a trip to the ACC Championship game. In doing so, the Demon Deacons took the latter two prizes away from Maryland.

"It's a real big letdown," said Maryland linebacker Wesley Jefferson. "This was for a shot at the ACC Championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl. I don't think it is going to hit us until later but then, it's too late."

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The game was an unlikely battle between two improbable teams on a stage that no one would have guessed they would be on. Maryland had struggled to a 5-6 record in each of the last two years and Wake had become the layover week in the ACC schedule.

The Deacons found toughness, validation and success by winning all six of their road games, the first time an ACC team has ever done that.

Maryland had transformed itself by becoming a driving offense that made few mistakes to complement a stingy defense that stuffed opposing running games. The Terps ran off a five-game winning streak in the middle of the season to reach this point.

It all came up missing on Saturday. The memories of recent success may have been to blame.

"Some of the guys came out here thinking things were going to be given to us," Jefferson said. "That wasn't the case. I think it was more psychological than physical. We had to realize what was in front of us. Why we didn't? I don't have an answer for that."

Wake Forest used its quick backfield to get to and beat Maryland on the outside edges of the defense. The Deacons built six scoring drives - five touchdowns and a field goal - out of 421 yards of offense.

They rushed for 296 yards, led by Kenneth Moore's 165 yards and a touchdown, against a Terps defense that had allowed 162 per game.

"If you want to be a champion, you have to rise up in that situation," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "We had done it this season. We went into Clemson and stung them and they have a pretty good rushing team. We've done it with other teams. We didn't show up tonight, like we didn't want to be there."

Maryland returned to its biggest problem on offense with three first-half interceptions. The Terps eliminated turnovers during the five-game winning streak, but it ended on Nov. 18 when Boston College scored three times defensively in a 38-16 loss to end the run of success.

On Saturday, only one of the three pickoffs against quarterback Sam Hollenbach led to an eventual touchdown, but they all stopped Maryland from scoring. The Terps took a 7-0 lead, but the interceptions came during Wake's run of 21 unanswered points, which gave the Demon Deacons all the lead they needed to keep Maryland at arm's length.

All the success - until the final two weeks - allowed Maryland to finish with an 8-4 record and a guaranteed trip to its first bowl game since 2003, which is reason to celebrate. The party is not as big as it could have been. Maryland is happy for what it has, but knows it could have been so much more.

"In the big picture (of being happy with an eight-win season), no," linebacker David Holloway said. "Our goal here was to get a win and we didn't do it. But overall it's yes, because the last two seasons here there were no bowls."

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