Scott's Late Start Powers Terps in Humanitarian Bowl

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BOISE, Idaho, Dec. 30 -- After Da'Rel Scott missed curfew this weekend, the Maryland running back worried that Coach Ralph Friedgen would send him back to College Park on a bus. After he didn't play in the first half of Tuesday's Humanitarian Bowl, he worried that he wouldn't play at all.

But Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin decided that missing one half was enough punishment for Scott, who completely changed the complexion of a wild game after entering the contest midway through the third quarter. Scott rushed for 174 yards, a Maryland bowl record, on just 14 carries and led Maryland to a 42-35 victory over Nevada.

A gorgeous backdrop of snow-capped mountains vanished once the sun went down in the second half, which made Scott's runs the most aesthetically pleasing sight for the 26,781 fans at Bronco Stadium. Time and again, he outraced the Wolf Pack and, in one half, went from suspended athlete to the Terrapins' most valuable player.

"I made a bad decision," said Scott, one of seven players suspended for missing curfew. "I felt I had to run with a purpose."

With the score tied at 28 early in the fourth quarter, Scott scored on a 49-yard run, stiff-arming a Nevada linebacker on his way to the end zone. On Maryland's next drive, Scott accounted for all 66 of the Terrapins' yards on a four-play scoring drive that resulted in a two-yard run for a touchdown.

"He just ran through us like we weren't there," Nevada Coach Chris Ault said.

While Scott's performance will garner the largest headlines, the play of Maryland's defense was equally impressive against the nation's second-best rushing attack. The Terrapins (8-5) held Nevada to 114 rushing yards, almost 200 less than its average.

The defensive showing was a bright spot for Al Seamonson, the interim defensive coordinator who has spent the month auditioning for the permanent job. Maryland's defense tried to make the Wolf Pack (7-6) beat the Terrapins by throwing the ball. Colin Kaepernick threw for 370 yards, but threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.

"We made them one-dimensional and got used to them throwing the ball," Maryland defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre said. "We got used to them running the ball."

Kaepernick sat out a series because he was nursing a sprained ankle and was seen favoring the ankle for much of the second half. Navarre said that was "one of our goals to make him not 100 percent. We were hitting him pretty good. We kept containing him, and he had nowhere to run."

Friedgen said defending a prolific, innovative offense like Nevada's became even more challenging because of the suspensions, and "we had to patch it all together and make it work. And it worked."

Maryland concluded a wild game befitting a wildly inconsistent season. One final twist was revealed before the game, when Maryland announced that seven players -- including wide receiver Danny Oquendo, four linebackers, defensive back Jamari McCollough and Scott -- would not start because of curfew violations.

Friedgen said the curfew violations occurred on more than one night, and that he had to differentiate the severity of one violation from another. He met with Athletic Director Debbie Yow for 2 1/2 hours and decided to play all the players except linebacker Trey Covington, even though none would be allowed to start. Oquendo made a key play late when he secured a Nevada onside kick to seal the win, and players said they viewed the suspensions as non-issues.

"I had to play Saint Peter," Friedgen said about his role in evaluating the incidents. "There were some mortal sins and some venial sins, but they all were sins. Good thing [Yow] was there because I was ready to send them all home. She helped me."

The Terrapins hardly felt the absence of Scott early on because of the emergence of Morgan Green, who had not carried the ball since Sept. 20. Green rushed for 63 yards in the first half, including a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

An action-packed first half included an accidental onside kick by Maryland, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Terrapins' Torrey Smith and big passing plays from both teams, including a 59-yard touchdown reception by Maryland's Adrian Cannon on the game's opening possession.

Momentum changed in the third quarter, when Maryland quarterback Chris Turner threw an interception and lost two fumbles. The two-touchdown lead vanished after Kaepernick threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Vai Taua and later a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marko Mitchell.

That set the stage for Scott's fourth quarter and the second-best game of his career. After the game, one reporter asked Scott how he could violate curfew in a sleepy town like Boise. Scott declined to comment.

On the field, players doused assistants with water buckets. They rejoiced again on their way to the team bus. Chewing on pizza, Scott walked out of the stadium having salvaged his trip with a dazzling second half.

"They get bed-checked and then sneaked out," Friedgen said. "But I checked again at 1 o'clock. This is not my first rodeo."

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