At Maryland's team banquet in February, Coach Ralph Friedgen challenged his players to finally beat Florida State, saying that they had never done so because they failed to believe they could.
This past week, as the Terrapins were mired in the program's most confounding slump since Friedgen's arrival four years ago, he issued another challenge. Coordinators asked each player to sign a pledge affirming that he believed. In return, each received a T-shirt with "I believe" printed on back. Most resolute was defensive end Shawne Merriman, who told coordinators: "I don't believe. I know."
Maryland offensive lineman C.J. Brooks is mobbed by fans as he tries to make his way off the field at Byrd Stadium after the Terrapins' upset of Florida State.
(Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Yesterday, in a show of force as unlikely as the offensive futility that preceded it, Maryland salvaged a season and solidified its program's reputation. Maryland beat Florida State, 20-17, before 52,203 at Byrd Stadium for the most significant victory of the Friedgen era. The Terps beat the Seminoles for the first time ever and a top five team for the first time since 1983.
Once again, Maryland (4-4, 2-3 ACC) can dream of a fourth consecutive bowl game. Afterward, fans immediately converged on the field in a blanket of red. Somehow, both goal posts remained standing. Some fans carried players into the locker room. Others followed Friedgen to the corner of the field, where he sang the school's fight song. "Close your eyes and sing," Friedgen said later.
Two weeks ago, an exhausted Friedgen fell asleep at the wheel of his car at one point and fought off tears of frustration standing behind a lectern at another. The season appeared lost. Now, senior Domonique Foxworth said, "No matter what, you can't say the season was a failure."
When Friedgen emerged from the locker room last night, he glanced at his wife, Gloria, smiled and uttered only a few words before his eyes welled and voice cracked.
"I think it's a major step in our program," Friedgen said. "The first time you beat a top 10 team, it's always a milestone. We know we can do it now."
Throughout the game, it was difficult to discern which team was No. 5 in the country and contending for a Bowl Championship Series berth.
For the first time in more than a month, offensive playmakers emerged for Maryland, most notably tight end Vernon Davis, who had six receptions for 99 yards, and quarterback Joel Statham, who had been replaced in the third quarter of two earlier games and booed by home fans. Yesterday, Statham completed 21 of 40 passes for 333 yards.
Maryland had more total yards (387) than it had compiled in the three previous losses combined (366).
Meantime, Xavier Beitia missed three field goal attempts, the last a 45-yard try with 4 minutes 45 seconds remaining that drifted wide left, for Florida State (6-2, 4-2). Seminoles quarterback Wyatt Sexton was ineffective and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Chris Rix, the senior who has annually burned Maryland.
Even when Statham made a mistake yesterday, he quickly atoned. Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Statham misfired on a third-down pass intended for Drew Weatherly. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie intercepted and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown that cut the Terps' lead to 13-10.
On similar third-and-four play on the next possession, Statham hooked up with running back Josh Allen on a short screen pass. Allen raced 72 yards, zigzagging around defenders for the touchdown in Maryland's longest play this season.
Nearly every aspect of the offense functioned again. Nick Novak made both first-half field goal attempts -- 43 and 45 yards -- after missing three tries in the previous three games.
Most impressively, Statham led a six-play, 68-yard second-quarter drive keyed by two shrewd calls: a reverse to Jo Jo Walker that netted 35 yards and a 33-yard completion to Davis, who barreled toward the goal line, nearly jumping over 6-foot Bryant McFadden at the 2. Two plays later, Statham nudged into the end zone for the first touchdown allowed by the Florida State defense in 12 quarters.
With 7:43 remaining in the game, Rix threw a fade pass to Chauncey Stovall, who out-jumped cornerback Gerrick McPhearson for the ball in the left corner of the end zone. The reception closed the gap to 20-17, but the upset was in sight.
Afterward, Maryland wide receiver Rich Parson began to cramp up on the field en route to the locker room. No worries. Fans lifted him into the air and carried him to the locker room.
"I don't know if you've ever seen a rock concert," Parson said. "It was like that. That was beautiful."