Death-Defying Feat

dan ennis - university of maryland - kicker
Maryland kicker Dan Ennis watches his 31-yard, game-winning field goal split the uprights Saturday as Maryland wins its fourth straight game. (Mary Ann Chastain - AP)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006

CLEMSON, S.C., Nov. 4 -- Maryland kicker Dan Ennis found himself on the turf at Clemson Memorial Stadium, trapped under a mass of his ecstatic teammates, a weight that he estimated at "like 300,000 pounds."

"I could barely breathe," said Ennis, who quickly learned exactly how everybody else at Death Valley felt Saturday.

Ennis's 31-yard field goal as time expired Saturday completed Maryland's stunning 13-12 upset against No. 19 Clemson and sent the Terrapins flooding toward their kicker and struggling to comprehend the unbelievable.

"That was by far the best experience of my life," said Ennis, whose kick put Maryland atop the ACC's Atlantic Division standings. "If this doesn't get us respect, then I don't know what will."

By the time Ennis's kick sailed through the goal posts, the jubilant screams from the Terrapins on the field drowned out the sound of 79,000 Death Valley patrons slowly shuffling out of the stadium in disbelief.

"Early on, nobody thought they were any good," said Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who watched his team capture another nerve-racking victory. "And I always thought they had a chance to be good."

After looking like a lost cause against West Virginia five weeks ago, the Terrapins (7-2, 4-1 ACC) punched their ticket into a certain bowl appearance by limiting Clemson's running back combo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller to 131 yards.

"To keep this momentum going and this magic going, it was exciting," Terrapins cornerback Josh Wilson said. "It's exciting every game, to just get better every day."

Through nine games, the team that came to Clemson (7-2, 4-2) as significant underdogs now controls its destiny, with two of its final three games at home and a trip to the ACC championship game still within reach.

"I just told them, 'First round of playoffs and you just won the first round," said Friedgen, using an NFL reference to describe his team's task over the rest of the regular season. " 'You have three more rounds to go. If you win those three games, you get to go to the Super Bowl. Then you get to go to another bowl after that.' "

A maligned Maryland rush defense, ranked 100th in the country, produced its most inspired effort as it held one of the nation's most explosive offenses to four field goals. The Terrapins absorbed three Clemson plays that went for 40 yards or longer and denied the Tigers a trip into the end zone.

Meantime, quarterback Sam Hollenbach enjoyed a stellar performance, rallying the Terrapins from a 12-10 deficit with 2 minutes 25 seconds left by completing five of six passes on a 52-yard, game-winning drive. Hollenbach, working with one timeout, moved the Terps from their 34-yard line to the Clemson 14 to put Ennis in position to win the game.

Clemson's stout run defense, led by defensive end Gaines Adams, shut down Maryland's duo of Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball. The pair managed just 43 yards on 20 carries. But Hollenbach finished 23 for 34 for 247 yards, including a first-half touchdown pass to Danny Oquendo. An interception in the second quarter was the only blemish on his performance.

"We scored one offensive touchdown and won," Hollenbach said. "That just speaks volumes about our defense. They just came to play. Against Clemson's offense, that was an unbelievable effort."

Maryland led 10-9 with less than eight minutes left when an official review overturned what looked like a safety, which would have given the Terrapins a 12-9 lead. Instead, Clemson took the ball at its 1-yard line. Two plays later, the Terrapins were stunned when Clemson quarterback Will Proctor hit tight end Thomas Hunter, who was uncovered, for a 71-yard pass play.

From there, the Tigers settled for a field goal and a 12-10 lead that appeared for a moment to be enough for a victory.

"We gave up some plays, and continue to make mistakes," Friedgen said. "But we find a way to get stops, and character comes through."

After the game, the Terrapins attempted to put the improbable victory in perspective. Wilson spoke quickly, shaking a little bit, seemingly still not convinced of his team's new reality. Hollenbach heaped praise on every player but himself.

Defensive end Jeremy Navarre gave the most succinct summary of the victory:

"Maryland's back."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company