Big Plays Pave the Way
Sunday, November 12, 2006
At the end of each Maryland home win, tradition calls for the Terrapins to race toward the student section where the two groups join to sing the school's fight song. But last night, the students raced to the players, forming a sea of red on the Byrd Stadium field to celebrate Maryland's dramatic 14-13 victory against Miami.
The sense of togetherness created by the moment -- players and fans celebrating as one -- provided an appropriate ending to an evening shrouded with grief and ultimately relief.
Terrapins quarterback Sam Hollenbach and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey connected on two long touchdown passes in the first half -- one for a school-record 96 yards -- and after Miami closed to within a point, the Maryland defense turned back the Hurricanes by forcing a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers to culminate an evening of conflicted emotions.
"It's a bittersweet thing," Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson said.
More than 50,000 people at Byrd Stadium observed a moment of silence for slain Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata, whose picture was displayed on the scoreboard. Miami players took turns dropping to one knee in the end zone to pray for their fallen teammate just minutes before taking the field for the first time since he was shot and killed outside his apartment on Tuesday.
Another somber moment gripped the Maryland sideline later in the game when Terrapins offensive lineman Donnie Woods suffered a neck injury early in the third quarter. Medical personnel formed a ring around Woods as he remained motionless on the ground for nearly 10 minutes. Woods was airlifted to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore. Woods was able to move his extremities, and he was to undergo more tests later last night.
"I said a prayer for him," said Hollenbach, who joined other teammates in imploring Woods to get up, only to get no response.
The image of their teammate laying motionless and face down on the turf was still fresh as the Terrapins (8-2, 5-1 ACC) played an inspired fourth quarter to hang on for a victory that pushed the Terrapins to first place of the Atlantic Division.
"I don't know to explain it," said Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, who has watched his team win five straight games by a combined 13 points. "It's miraculous."
Fellow Atlantic Division member Wake Forest, which shut out Florida State 30-0 last night, also has one conference loss. The Demon Deacons play the Terrapins in the teams' regular season finale on Nov. 25 in College Park.
"Right now, we're in the thick of this race," Friedgen said.
On Maryland's third play of the game, Hollenbach found Heyward-Bey streaking down the sideline after beating Hurricanes cornerback Randy Phillips. Heyward-Bey, the former track star, raced 65 yards to the end zone to give Maryland a 7-0 lead with 11:45 left in the first quarter.
Two series later, Hollenbach and Heyward-Bey struck again. This time, with the ball at his 4-yard line, Hollenbach dropped into his own end zone, and with a heavy blitz coming, hit Heyward-Bey in stride down the sideline. Heyward-Bey pulled away from the Hurricanes for a 96-yard touchdown with 12:58 left in the first half. It was the longest play Miami has ever surrendered.
Maryland was outgained 320 yards to 258, but in the fourth quarter, the Terrapins' defense stiffened. Miami controlled time of possession by nearly 15 minutes. Miami converted 13 of 21 third-down attempts, compared with Maryland's 2 of 10.
But by forcing turnovers on Miami's final two chances, the Terrapins made sure that all of that didn't matter.
After Miami freshman receiver Ryan Hill dropped what would have been a go-ahead touchdown pass in the end zone, the Hurricanes settled for a 25-yard field goal by Jon Peattie to trim the lead to 14-13 with 11:02 left. The kick set up another tense fourth quarter for the Terrapins.
With three minutes to go, Terrapins cornerback Josh Wilson tipped a pass by Kirby Freeman. The ball hung in the air long enough to be intercepted by linebacker Trey Covington, who looked like a wide receiver when he kept his toes inside the line. The play was reviewed to make sure Covington was in bounds, but replays revealed only Covington's deft footwork.
The clincher came when the Terrapins' Isaiah Gardner forced Miami punt returner Bruce Johnson to fumble with about a minute to play.
"I just knew there was three minutes left, and it was up to the defense again," Gardner remembers thinking on the field.
The play triggered the celebration. But even in the midst of joy, the Terrapins could see there was much more at play than bowl trips and championships.
"There's things in this life that are much larger than football," Hollenbach said, echoing a theme that dominated the night.