Terps Refuse to Pack It In
Sunday, October 22, 2006
While his teammates sprinted to sing with the joyous student section at Byrd Stadium -- as is the custom after every Maryland home victory -- Terrapins linebacker Rick Costa walked down the sideline alone. With his expressionless face caked in smeared eye black, Costa fidgeted with the brace on his right shoulder as he moved toward a green cart that was dispatched to take him away for treatment.
A few seconds after he climbed onto the back of the cart, the Maryland marching band started playing the theme song from the movie "Gladiator." It seemed to be a fitting tribute to Costa, whose aggressive play within a swarming Maryland defense yesterday helped lead the Terrapins to a 26-20 victory over ACC rival North Carolina State.
"I thought we played our best game," said Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who watched his team improve to 5-2, 2-1 in the ACC. "We made it close, though. It would have been a shame for us to lose this game after how we played for three quarters and eight minutes."
With the Terrapins leading 23-6 in the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack scored on a 65-yard punt return by Darrell Blackman with 8 minutes 18 seconds left in the game and a one-yard run by Toney Baker with 58 seconds left. But the late rally wasn't enough to overcome a strong effort by Maryland's defense, which for three quarters dictated the game's outcome by pressuring Wolfpack quarterback Daniel Evans.
"Everybody's playing more aggressive, and that comes with more confidence," linebacker Wesley Jefferson said. "I think we're a lot more confident, and it's showing."
Friedgen made several adjustments on the defensive front, moving Conrad Bolston to nose tackle and instructing him to focus on rushing the quarterback. Dre Moore and Carlos Feliciano took turns in that spot as well.
But the most important change came with Costa. Part of the linebacker rotation all season, Costa had a standout game by using his speed to become a disruptive force in the pass rush from both the outside linebacker and defensive end positions.
"We knew Costa can play," Terrapins safety Christian Varner said. "We see it every day in practice. We were just waiting for him to do it in a game."
Costa, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this season, finished with three tackles and half a sack. But more important, his play helped free up his teammates, who combined to sack Evans four times, including two by cornerback Josh Wilson.
Even after leaving the game in the third quarter because of a partially dislocated shoulder, Costa showed his toughness by returning.
"I didn't think he was going to come back in," Friedgen said.
Evans, a sophomore making his first road start, was hailed as the program's savior after leading the Wolfpack to back-to-back wins over Florida State and Boston College. But in a matchup with bowl ramifications for both teams, the Terrapins rendered Evans a non-factor. The quarterback finished with 145 yards passing but had just 25 at halftime, leading his team into Terrapins territory just once. He threw a pair of interceptions in the second half.
"He was a little shaky at times," said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson, whose interception set up a touchdown early in the second half. "There were times when he seemed unsure of what defense we were in."
Maryland led 6-0 at halftime. Running back Keon Lattimore twice turned screen passes into gains of at least 30 yards. Both catches put Maryland in N.C. State territory and led to field goals by Dan Ennis.
The Terrapins' offense took advantage of Wolfpack turnovers in the second half.
North Carolina State's first two plays in the second half resulted in a fumble and an interception, giving the Terrapins good field position. Maryland responded, turning both opportunities into touchdowns.
Safety Marcus Wimbush forced running back Andre Brown to fumble on the Wolfpack's first play from scrimmage of the second half, leading to Josh Allen's four-yard touchdown reception. On N.C. State's next offensive play, Evans felt heat from linebacker David Holloway, forcing a wobbler right to Henderson. A 20-yard scramble by quarterback Sam Hollenbach led to Lance Ball's two-yard touchdown run to make it 20-0.
Ennis booted two more field goals in the second half. The last kick, an 18-yarder with 1:55 left in the game, gave the Terrapins a 26-13 cushion, which helped Maryland weather the Wolfpack's last touchdown. And now, after missing the postseason for two straight years, the Terrapins are one victory from bowl eligibility.
"We're getting a lot of mileage out of these kids," Friedgen said. "They come to play every week. I can see us getting better. Hopefully we get some momentum right now. If we get another win next week, who knows where we can go."