By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 23, 2008
A day that began with Maryland officials sneaking peaks at ACC scores ended with players cringing at the sight of two Byrd Stadium scoreboards, a snapshot reflecting a lost opportunity in a ghastly home finale they won't soon forget.
Florida State's 37-3 victory over Maryland last night, coupled with Boston College's victory over Wake Forest earlier yesterday, eliminated Maryland from ACC title contention. In a span of eight hours, the 22nd-ranked Terrapins went from division favorite to non-factor.
After the game, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, appearing beaten and talking in a solemn tone, said it "boggles my mind that we can play so poorly in such a big game." Friedgen placed the blame squarely on his players, saying they "did not compete, did not play with any effort."
A spirited crowd of 51,620, who were asked to wear black to create a "blackout," braved near freezing temperatures to cheer on a team that for three months has baffled fans and coaches alike with its unpredictable, erratic personality. And in one of the most significant games in Friedgen's eight-year tenure, the Terrapins (7-4, 4-3 ACC) reassumed their non-competitive persona, looked overmatched in every respect and lost their first home game of the season in decisive fashion.
"It is very depressing," said Maryland center Edwin Williams, one of 30 seniors playing in their final home game.
Maryland's offensive line, which had carried the Terrapins in the previous game against North Carolina, could not contain Florida State's speedy pass rushers, who sacked Chris Turner six times, five in the first half. The Seminoles (8-3, 5-3) battered Turner from every angle and hurried and harassed the junior more than any opponent had this season.
Turner, who said he was hurting a "little bit" after the game, said Florida State's defensive linemen were probably the fastest he has seen this season, but said defensive players "played dirty. They take a lot of cheap shots."
Turner, who had not thrown an interception since Oct. 4, threw two. Running back Da'Rel Scott fumbled twice. And the Terrapins never challenged in a game their seniors viewed as a potential "perfect ending" to their careers.
Williams did not feel effort was as big a problem as execution, adding: "Everyone knew what the stakes were. When you have bad communication at home, that's bad. I didn't expect so many turnovers and mental errors. Things you would expect in the first game rather than the 11th."
The small pockets of Seminoles fans had plenty to cheer about during a first half in which their team forced three turnovers and took a commanding 21-0 lead. They had even more reason to rejoice when they first spotted a late-arriving guest, junior safety Myron Rolle, who hours earlier had won a Rhodes Scholarship.
After learning at 5:25 p.m. that he had won, Rolle took a charter flight to Baltimore and arrived at Byrd Stadium at 8:34. Florida State fans gave Rolle a standing ovation as he approached the Seminoles sideline.
Maryland's sideline offered a far different tenor. Trailing 21-0 late in the first half, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey stood in the middle of a team huddle, pumping his feet, jumping and emphatically imploring teammates to respond. His rally cry fell on deaf ears.
By the time Scott fumbled for the second time early in the fourth quarter, all hope was lost. Williams walked from the field and threw his arms in the air.
Over the last three months, Maryland had suffered inexplicable losses at Middle Tennessee and Virginia and lost in the hostile confines of Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. But the Terrapins, who have lost all four night games this season, last night looked utterly outclassed despite having so much for which to play.
"I had a feeling that their win last week [over North Carolina] might hurt them in regard to this week," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "I thought we might catch them a little flat."
In the past, Friedgen has sensed when his team was not ready to play because of performances in practices or walk-throughs. Throughout this week, Friedgen was displeased with some practices, so he brought a few players into his office to speak to them.
"They assured me they would be ready to go," Friedgen said. "That was not the case."
Turner said there was no indication of a letdown before the game, saying the locker room mood was "electric." And the Terrapins looked formidable early, but had no points to show for it.
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, meantime, relied on his arm and legs while engineering a 16-play drive that led to the game's first score. Ponder got the ball into the end zone when he hooked up with wide receiver Preston Parker for a seven-yard touchdown reception.
A little more than five minutes later, defensive end Everette Brown jarred the ball loose from Scott. Linebacker Derek Nicholson scooped up the ball and raced 22 yards into the end zone to give the Seminoles a two-touchdown lead.
Late in the first half, Florida State hammered Turner on consecutive plays (the first resulted in a personal foul on Florida State linebacker Dekoda Watson). On the next play, Turner threw his second interception.
"My mental state is not good," Friedgen said.