When Maryland linebacker William Kershaw got his big mitt in the way of a field goal attempt in the final 10 seconds of regulation -- the moment an entire state went dead quiet -- you began to wonder:

What kind of otherworldly deal did Ralph Friedgen cut and with whom?

Did the Maryland coach, forever battling the bulge, just walk up to a middle-earth troll and say, "I give up carbs and take my Lotrel medication daily, you give me another victory over West Virginia?"

Did Friedgen strike a pact with a sinister bowl representative, guaranteeing fans and ratings on New Year's Day?

Not to be flip, but something was awry most of Saturday at Mountaineer Field, where the story was not that Maryland lost its first football game in 11 months. No, it was why the Terrapins did not lose this game in the first half. Or, how in the world were they still in it after four quarters?

Five turnovers, including three interceptions from the starting quarterback, poor field position and all the Terps did was bow, 19-16, in overtime on the game's final play.

They lost to the nation's seventh-ranked college football team before 60,000 people who essentially turned out for the year's biggest kegger on a field in the middle of an orchard.

Friedgen's team that lost 21 seniors goes against an all grown-up bunch of Mountaineers, hell-bent on revenge for last year's 41-7 Gator Bowl drubbing, and has a shot to win late?


Maybe, if you're from Maryland or have allegiances to the school, you don't buy into what happened Saturday.

It's understandable, given the success Friedgen has had since he took over the program in 2000. Thirty-three wins. The annual bowl hunting. Hanging with Florida State for more than three quarters.

After all, he's only beat West Virginia four times in three years, making his counterpart, Rich Rodriguez, look awfully fallible until this afternoon.

And naturally, after a loss such as this, Maryland, ranked No. 21 coming in, should be crushed. Coaches and players overanalyzing every mistake, every first-quarter miscue, blown coverage, that may have resulted in the Terps' first victory under Friedgen over a top-10 team.

But here's the rub: With how the Terrapins opened this game, getting out of this town with a win would have been almost grand theft, and they know it.

Friedgen's team was spanked and almost embarrassed for the first two quarters. Joel Statham, his redshirt sophomore quarterback, was intercepted three times, his team fumbled twice and had the ball for a little more than 10 of the first 30 minutes. And the other team's running back, skittering Kay-Jay Harris, had 98 rushing yards and one walk-in touchdown. West Virginia should have led by three touchdowns, if not four, at halftime -- not just a paltry 7-3.

Until that final play, the Fridge -- by divinity or his awesome defense -- seemed to have some kind of football karma.

For three quarters, it was Statham fumble, Statham interception. And another interception. And another. The kid seemed to have so little confidence early on.

His pump-fakes looked like nervous tics, unsellable to the most gullible child -- never mind a bona fide Division I cornerback.

His passes were too high or too far behind his receivers. Even when he ran, he looked timid, like he wanted to hook-slide out of the stadium and go back to the comforts of College Park.

But he somehow found Derrick Fenner on a fly pattern down the right side with 1 minute 21 seconds left in the third quarter, a pretty 27-yard spiral that Fenner tucked away to draw Maryland even at 10. On the Terrapins' next possession, Statham was suddenly looking off receivers, distributing evenly among his backs and wideouts.

This wasn't Temple, Maryland's blowout victim last week. These were the No. 7 Mountaineers, and he was picking them apart in the fourth quarter. On a third and three, Statham put his head down and rumbled four yards. First down, go-ahead field goal to come. New man, new team.

"I'm not upset with the team at all," Friedgen said. He went on to say that Statham came back and fought through his struggles like many of his other players and deemed the whole day a learning experience. He did not even publicly skewer him for the turnovers.

"I wish I could say I'm going to cure that tomorrow, but I know that's not going to happen," he said. "It's going to take time. It's like being a bad writer. It just takes a little time to get a grip."

Was he protecting his young quarterback from stinging criticism? Yeah. But so what. That's his job.

Bottom line, Maryland's Saturday of living dangerously finally caught up to the Terrapins. They lost a game to a team that outplayed them for much of the afternoon. They were almost bailed out by a better-than-advertised defense, but their offensive ineptitude was too much to overcome.

Afterward, the nice men from the Peach Bowl and the Gator Bowl came by to shake hands with Friedgen, telling him, "Tough game," and essentially letting Friedgen know he's welcome, any time.

"Thanks for coming," Friedgen said, more polite than gruff.

Meantime, across the hall, West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall drew parallels to another championship Mountaineers era.

Yes, Marshall nodded, he grew up in the same area of Pittsburgh and went to the same high school as Major Harris, the durable and darting West Virginia quarterback who took his team and a state to the national title game in 1989 against Notre Dame. Yes, he said, that was Harris laughing with him on the sideline after he found his receiver Chris Henry on a simple look-in pattern in overtime, the winning touchdown he said was 50 percent happiness and 50 percent relief.

"It's a good feeling to win, but it's nice to have people stop saying, 'When you gonna beat Maryland?' "

You could portray two programs headed in divergent directions. The Mountaineers off to a cake Big East schedule that could end with West Virginia emerging as the only unbeaten team in the nation in January. And reeling Maryland seeing if it can compete in the rugged ACC.

But when you stay with the No. 7 team in America into overtime three games into the season, chances are you might get better before you get worse.

West Virginia's Craig Wilson breaks through to sack Maryland quarterback Joel Statham in the first half, but is called for a face mask penalty.