By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009
For Nick Ferrara, Saturday night brought the realization of a lifelong dream. Thousands of fans rejoiced in the Byrd Stadium aisles after Maryland's place kicker made a game-winning 26-yard field goal in his second career game. Players lifted the 18-year-old high in the air as teammates celebrated around him near the middle of the field.
But for Maryland, the 38-35 overtime victory over James Madison was anything but dreamy and will do little to allay long-term concerns about the Terrapins, who followed their worst season-opening loss since 1892 -- a 52-13 loss at California -- with a narrow win over a division I-AA team that has yet to settle on a quarterback.
Making matters worse was Coach Ralph Friedgen's postgame announcement that cornerback Nolan Carroll, a senior co-captain, will almost certainly miss the remainder of the season with a broken tibia bone in his leg. When told of the injury, linebacker Alex Wujciak lifted his head and said: "He broke his leg? That's going to hurt us. He's our leader."
Exactly what the loss of Carroll and the come-from-behind victory mean for Maryland's season-long prognosis will be debated in the coming days after a taut, back-and-forth contest that included big plays, inopportune penalties and critical dropped passes. A thrilling contest that could not be settled in four quarters showcased Maryland's talent as much as its inexperience.
"Just another day at the office," an exasperated Friedgen said upon starting his news conference.
Maryland squandered a 15-point first-half advantage largely because of two costly third quarter turnovers -- a fumble by punt returner Kenny Tate and an interception by quarterback Chris Turner that was returned 63 yards for a touchdown. Maryland twice rallied from seven-point deficits in the fourth quarter to force overtime before 46,485 fans.
When James Madison place kicker Dixon Wright missed a 41-yard field goal on the first overtime series, Ferrara observed that a small gust of wind took the kick wide right. So when Ferrara got his chance on third and six at the 9, he aimed between the middle of the uprights and the left bar.
"My heart dropped," Ferrara said when he saw that the kick was good. "I felt choked up, actually."
Friedgen said that he had dreamed his team would win on a third-down field goal in overtime. But the preceding four quarters did not go exactly as Friedgen had anticipated. He said he can live with inexperienced, hard-working players, but he has no tolerance for penalties -- notably a fourth-quarter personal foul on wide receiver Torrey Smith -- and turnovers that nearly derailed Maryland's chances.
"Our margin for error is not that big," Friedgen said. "We can't beat ourselves."
A defense that was billed to be aggressive and unorthodox has been underwhelming in games against a potent California offense and the spread option of James Madison, which rushed for 268 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per rush.
"It's a handful," first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown said of the challenges of the first two games. "We're still trying to fill in gaps."
Brown took responsibility for the play of the defense, adding that: "I am a grown man. But I have guys who give me everything they've got, so I can't complain."
The third quarter featured several big plays that swung the momentum toward James Madison. Midway through the quarter, Tate, who had impressed Friedgen with his punt return ability, fumbled a punt at the Maryland 45, giving the ball back to James Madison.
On third and 11 from the 15, James Madison quarterback Drew Dudzik, who rotated throughout the game with redshirt freshman Justin Thorpe, lofted the ball toward the right side of the end zone toward tight end Mike Caussin, who was well defended by linebacker Adrian Moten. But Caussin reached above Moten and secured the ball with his fingertips for the touchdown that tied the game at 21.
On the ensuing drive, Turner made his biggest mistake of the night. With a defender in his face, Turner threw in the direction of tight end Tommy Galt, who was well covered. Safety Jon Williams stepped in front of Galt to intercept the ball and returned it 62 yards down the sideline for the go-ahead score.
The Terrapins tied the game three minutes into the fourth quarter when Turner ran to his right and flipped the ball to wide receiver Smith, who ran left for an eight-yard touchdown. But James Madison quickly responded when Dudzik raced 70 yards for a touchdown.
"They believed they were better than us, and they played like it," said Turner, who completed 25 of 38 passes for 237 yards.
In the first half, an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Smith and a strong performance by Turner, who directed two touchdown drives of at least 70 yards, helped the Terrapins secure a 21-14 halftime lead.
One week after allowing six sacks against the Golden Bears, Maryland's offensive line played without left tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) and started freshman Bennett Fulper at left guard. The line did not allow a sack in the first half Saturday, but Turner rarely stayed in the pocket long. He completed 11 of 14 passes in the half, including several quick outs and wide receiver screens.
Turner completed all five passes during Maryland's opening 10-play, 71-yard drive that was capped by running back Da'Rel Scott's one-yard touchdown run.
Turner looked equally sharp through most of the second quarter. He completed passes to four different players -- LaQuan Williams, Quintin McCree, Smith and fullback Taylor Watson -- during a 14-play, 81-yard drive. But on second and three from the 3, Turner used his legs -- not his right arm -- to get the Terrapins into the end zone. After a hard pump fake to his right, Turner took off for the end zone, squeezing across the goal line as two defenders collided with him.
"I have not seen him make a play like that since he has been here," Friedgen said. "That was a toughness play. He had a gutty performance."