The first time Randy Edsall traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., he was a quarterback playing for Syracuse, back when the old Mountaineer Field was at the center of campus. During pregame warmups, Edsall’s routine was interrupted by objects flying from the stands: West Virginia’s fans were pelting him with oranges.
Projectile turtles can safely be ruled out for Saturday, when the Terrapins take on No. 8 West Virginia at the new Mountaineer Field on the eastern outskirts of campus, but the energy won’t be any less rampant, the reception no less antagonistic. The Maryland players who have visited Morgantown before know what’s in store; the younger Terps who haven’t are in for a loud surprise.
Everyone has a story. Edsall saw tobacco-spitting contests and dogs catching Frisbees at halftime. Matt Furstenburg saw children flick a choice finger in his general direction. Demetrius Hartsfield got the same single-digit treatment, and remembers fans dressing up as former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. A.J. Francis got spit on by an elderly woman he estimated to be 80 years old.
“That’s the kind of atmosphere you deal with,” Francis said. “People think I’m making that story up. The Saturdays in the fall is what they live for, so you’ve got to be ready to come for it, because their fans are ready and their teams are ready.”
Maryland’s last visit to Mountaineer Field was on Sept. 18, 2010, a 31-17 loss in which quarterback Geno Smith, now the program’s career passing leader and a Heisman Trophy hopeful, hurled four touchdowns as West Virginia surged to a 28-0 lead.
On the Terps’s first drive that game, shortly after Smith found wide receiver Tavon Austin — also still playing for the Mountaineers — for a six-yard touchdown pass, Maryland had three delay-of- game penalties and one false start. The reason? Center Paul Pinegar couldn’t hear quarterback Jamarr Robinson’s snap count.
If the Terps hope to have any shot at ending their six-game losing streak in the series, controlling emotions and focusing amid an ear-splitting cacophony will be key. True freshmen such as quarterback Perry Hills, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and the running back trio of Wes Brown, Albert Reid and Brandon Ross haven’t experienced anything quite like this yet. Neither have sophomore playmakers such as Marcus Leak and Justus Pickett, or offensive linemen such as center Sal Conaboy.
“If you don’t know that West Virginia is a hell of a place to play, I don’t know where you’ve been living the first 18 years of your life,” Francis said. “It’s going to be a wild environment. It always is. But what are you going to do? You have to be ready to adapt.”
Simulating the volume found in Morgantown won’t exactly be an easy task, not unless bass-thumping speakers are wheeled out to practice and blasted at close range. When Friedgen was the coach, right tackle Justin Gilbert recalls, the entire week leading up to playing West Virginia was filled with replays of John Denver’s anthem “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Gilbert said he liked that song before he came to Maryland. Not anymore.
“From the college freshmen to the 60-year-old lady up in the stands, they’re all just as rowdy,” Gilbert said. “They’re crazy. They’re loud, so we have to put a big emphasis on crowd noise and make sure we don’t get off track because of that.”
But the Terps don’t speak of those incidents with indignation. Rather, they tell stories of trips to Morgantown with acceptance and respect. Most of all, traveling to West Virginia presents an opportunity.
Outside Maryland’s outdoor practice fields, on a paved path cornered by clothed fences, sits a graveyard of tombstones, each representing a victory over a top-10 opponent. No current Terp has ever seen a tombstone erected, and Maryland hasn’t done it since they beat No. 8 Boston College on Nov. 10, 2007.
“Games like this are why you play college football,” Francis said. “You go out there and win a game no one thinks you’re going to win against a team you don’t really like and they don’t really like you. It’s a war. That’s how it’s going to be. That’s the truth.”