Terrapins Win a 'Dogfight'

Christian Varner
Maryland defensive back Christian Varner saves the day for the Terps, intercepting a Florida International pass as time expires. (Jonathan Newton - The Post)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006

All week long, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen heaped praise on 0-3 Florida International, calling them a "dangerous" team that the Terrapins needed to take seriously to beat.

Last night, his prediction came true. Maryland withstood a near-successful desperation heave and needed plenty of help from the Golden Panthers to hang on for a 14-10 victory at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins improved to 3-1 entering their bye week but only narrowly escaped becoming the latest ACC team to fall to a non-BCS conference opponent.

"I think what I said Tuesday came to be," Friedgen said. "I told you they had a lot of good players, and we'd be in a dogfight if we didn't come to play."

With 10 seconds remaining and his team trailing by four, Florida International quarterback Josh Padrick found receiver Chandler Williams for a 45-yard strike, putting the Golden Panthers on the Terps 9.

Even without a timeout remaining, Padrick managed to get one more snap off with one second left. Padrick dropped back to throw even while half of his offensive linemen stood around wondering if the play would count. He fired a desperation shot toward the end zone, but Maryland safety Christian Varner intercepted the pass at the 2-yard line.

The Terrapins emptied onto the field, relieved they had just dodged an upset.

"My heart almost dropped," Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson said about the plays down the stretch. "It seemed like we had it sealed up, and then that big play gave them a little more life. The defense did a good job of going down there and holding them. All kinds of fluke things happen down by the goal line."

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Wilson saved the Terps with a clutch tackle.

Trailing 14-7 early in the fourth quarter, Florida International running back A'mod Ned broke through the Terrapins defense and into the open field. He appeared headed for the end zone for a tying touchdown. But Wilson ran Ned down from behind and pushed him out of bounds at the Terrapins 5.

"That was a great play," Maryland linebacker Wesley Jefferson said. "To come all way across the field like he did was amazing, and that definitely was a game-saving play right there."

The Terps' defense then forced Florida International (0-4) to settle for Dustin Rivest's 26-yard field goal to make it 14-10 with 10:42 left in the game.

"I'd rather win ugly that lose looking good," Friedgen said.

The coach got his wish much to the dismay of the 45,317 at Byrd Stadium who didn't hesitate to boo despite watching the Terrapins move halfway toward bowl eligibility.

"All we wanted coming in was to get win number three," said Terps wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught four passes for 35 yards. "That's all we were focused on. We didn't like the way that we won the game, but a win is a win. It was big to get that third win going into ACC play."

The Terrapins managed just six plays from scrimmage that went for more than 11 yards with the longest coming on a 21-yard screen pass from Sam Hollenbach to Josh Allen. The Terps committed six penalties for 74 yards, and the defense yielded an 89-yard touchdown pass, the longest against Maryland since 1999.

Meantime, Hollenbach struggled to make plays, going 17 for 30 for 158 yards with an interception in the end zone.

"I was trying to throw the ball more tonight to be honest with you," Friedgen said. "It just wasn't working out."

Maryland took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Allen took a screen pass 14 yards to the end zone.

But a defensive lapse allowed Florida International to tie the game.

Facing second and long from his 11-yard line, Padrick fired to tight end Samuel Smith, who raced past Marcus Wimbush's attempted arm tackle and went 89 yards to tie it with 8:07 left in the first quarter.

But Danny Oquendo returned a punt 37 yards late in the first half, putting the Terps on the Golden Panthers 28. Five plays later, Hollenbach found Isaiah Williams in the end zone to give Maryland a 14-7 lead.

It turned out to be enough. Barely.

Terrapins Notes: Wilson played in the secondary and returned kicks despite missing at least two practices this week with an injured right foot, which was protected by a walking boot starting last Tuesday. Friedgen refused to elaborate on the injury. . . .

Left guard Donnie Woods was carted off the field late in the third quarter. He left the game with cramps.

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