Why Cash Out Now?

Darrius Heyward-Bey (8), who scored both of Maryland's touchdowns on long passes from quarterback Sam Hollenbach, soaks in the jubilant postgame scene at Byrd Stadium.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (8), who scored both of Maryland's touchdowns on long passes from quarterback Sam Hollenbach, soaks in the jubilant postgame scene at Byrd Stadium. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ralph Friedgen's team was outgained, defensively outgunned and outplayed for most of four quarters at Byrd Stadium by a bunch of Miami kids carrying a heavy emotional burden into an ACC football game they felt they needed to play.

But as usual in this season of surreal redemption in College Park, the Terrapins stayed ahead where it mattered most. Again.

It's why the Fridge quipped he should go to Vegas after an absolutely riveting 14-13 victory over the Hurricanes yesterday, a victory that left a sea of red walking around in wonderment on the stadium grass afterward. Because the Terps are playing with so much house money at this point, we have a more economical idea:

Powerball, baby -- for everything in the Orange Bowl kitty.

Why not? The insane odds of the Terps picking the right numbers were about the same they would have been given to play for the ACC championship a month ago -- when they rebounded from a 20-0 deficit to stun Virginia and take off on this magical and, at times, maddening journey.

They've won the past five games by a total of 13 points. They beat the crestfallen 'Canes despite managing just six first downs. They had the ball for less than 23 minutes. They converted just 2 of 10 third downs next to Miami's 13 of 21.

If not for Josh Wilson breaking up the umpteenth huge pass play -- a play that resulted in an interception for the Terps with three minutes left -- no dice. If not for Isaiah Gardner's huge hit that jarred the ball loose from Miami punt returner Bruce Johnson (talk about Mr. Right Place Right Time; Gardner is the same Terp who pounced on the fumble at Virginia near the goal line, a play that began the reversal of a season going nowhere), Miami has a real shot to pull off a stirring win.

As it is, Maryland controls its destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division. If the Terps beat Boston College on the road on Saturday and Wake Forest at home the following week, a program left for dead four weeks ago meets up with Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. The winner of that game goes to the Orange Bowl. Is that just wild from whence Maryland came?

Even with a loss in that game, the Terps wind up no worse than the Peach, Gator, Champs or Music City Bowl. It's looking ahead, of course, but what's the harm the way Maryland keeps pulling out victories against some very talented teams. Who says college football doesn't have a playoff? The ACC has one the next two weeks.

"I don't know what to tell you," Friedgen said, when told of the disparity in numbers. "I'm living a good life. It's miraculous, it really is."

Maryland went up 14-0 on two perfectly timed deep routes from Sam Hollenbach to Darrius Heyward-Bey. The second touchdown went for 96 yards and just seemed to siphon faith from Miami.

But the Hurricanes kept whittling away for the next 2 1/2 quarters, until they came within one point with 11 minutes 2 seconds left on a gimme field goal. The last eight minutes, all of Friedgen's gutsy play-calling early on and all of Maryland's offensive fireworks vanished. Miami's nails defense came alive, stuffing the Terps at the line of scrimmage and behind it.

They played courageously without senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata, their NFL prospect teammate who was shot dead Tuesday.

As much as the Miami players dealt with something no team should ever deal with this past week, something should be said about the kindness and empathy of the Maryland players. Everyone forked over their $10 per diem for Pata's family, a modest sum of $1,000 that transcended the game.

Meanwhile, how bizarre a scene from the beginning. The idea that Maryland would emerge 8-2 and Miami 5-5 in the 10th week of the college football season is mind-numbing.

"Weird," said Conrad Bolston, the senior defensive tackle. "Especially with everything going on around the game with Miami. Just weird."

At one point, the TV announcer said, "The 'Canes can't match the athleticism of Heyward-Bey."

Really, when was the last time Miami couldn't match the athleticism of anyone at Maryland? It really said something about the current state of both teams, which way the pendulum has swung and how much Maryland has to play for the next two weeks.

Weird. If you're Ralph Friedgen and feeling more lucky than good, wonderfully weird.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company