Mistakes Prove Terps' Undoing
Sunday, November 4, 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Nov. 3 -- They made drive-killing mistakes, delayed the game, shifted illegally, jumped offside and found themselves in places where they weren't supposed to be. Play calls came in scrambled, jumbled and ultimately bungled. Running backs blocked the wrong side. Coaches mixed up formations. Confusion reigned.
Yet, despite its clumsiest effort of the season, despite falling behind by two scores, despite another injury-plagued afternoon, the Maryland football team had a chance to steal a victory away from North Carolina, taking over at its 23 with 2 minutes 49 seconds to play, trailing by a field goal.
But the unlikely comeback fell short when the Terrapins failed to convert on fourth and two in North Carolina territory, allowing the Tar Heels to preserve a 16-13 victory that damaged the Terrapins' precarious postseason ambitions.
"We've had some very, very difficult losses this year that probably could have changed our season around," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "And this is another one that hurts quite a bit."
A boisterous homecoming crowd of 56,000 at Kenan Stadium watched two struggling ACC programs play with all the grace of middle schoolers at their first dance. The teams combined for 20 penalties and five turnovers.
The Terrapins (4-5, 1-4) uncharacteristically committed nine of those penalties for 67 yards, and several times, they were visibly baffled by even the simplest tasks, such as lining up in the proper formation, staying on their side of the line of scrimmage and knowing the snap count.
"I was expecting a flag on every play," said Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner, who settled down from a rocky first half to finish 20 of 36 for 209 yards and an interception.
The sum of those errors gave Maryland its third loss in a row and dropped the team under .500 for the first time since the 2005 season. More importantly, the loss means that Maryland must win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible.
"It's just so desperate at this point," Turner said. "Everything that's going wrong is going wrong. It's just a desperate feeling right now."
North Carolina led 9-3 at halftime behind three field goals from Connor Barth, who connected from 23, 45 and 45 yards. The Tar Heels then scored the game's first touchdown -- a 30-yard pass from T.J. Yates to a wide-open Hakeem Nicks in the end zone -- with a little help from the Terrapins. Facing third and seven at the Maryland 44, Yates barely missed tight end Zack Pianalto, but linebacker David Philistin, trailing on the play, was called for a pass interference penalty that prolonged the drive. Two plays later, Yates threw a perfect ball to Nicks to push Maryland's deficit to 16-3.
But the Terrapins launched a comeback. Turner hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 35-yard strike, which set up Keon Lattimore's five-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Maryland inched closer with 6:01 left in the game when kicker Obi Egekeze hit a 29-yarder that cut the Tar Heels' lead to just a field goal.
Turner then moved the Terrapins to the Tar Heels 41-yard line on the final drive. But on fourth and two, Turner felt pressure and threw a desperation pass out of bounds, thus ending his team's chances.
"I made a mistake," Friedgen said of the final play, in which he asked Turner to roll left. "Put it on me."
The Terrapins' defense, which had allowed an average of more than 430 yards in its last six games, held the Tar Heels to 259 offensive yards, the defense's best performance since an early-season victory at Florida International. Maryland clamped down in the second half, the product of a deeper rotation that included unheralded reserves such as Jermaine Lemons, Olugbemi Otulaja and Nolan Carroll.
But as the afternoon turned into early evening, the same telltale maladies that have plagued the Terrapins this season made their regular appearances.
Erin Henderson, who would later leave the game because of a back injury, picked up a fumble and committed one -- all on the same play. Defensive lineman Carlos Feliciano dropped a sure interception. The Terrapins, again, missed chances.
And again, injuries ravaged the offensive line. Starting left tackle Scott Burley left the game because of an ankle injury early in the first quarter and didn't return against until late in the second. Backup Bruce Campbell, who wasn't even supposed to play, alternated with redshirt freshman Paul Pinegar during Burley's absence.
But that resilience was a poor substitute for sound execution.
"It seems like a broken record," Friedgen said. "I think the kids played very courageously tonight but we made a lot of mistakes, mistakes that killed drives. I've got to look at myself, because when that's happening, we're not prepared like we need to be prepared."