Boston College 31,
In one sense, the opportunity was very specific: Down one score late in the fourth quarter, Maryland had the ball and a chance to draw even with Boston College.
In another sense, the opportunity was a bit grander. Despite a rocky season that has included a miserable home record and an off-the-field distraction, the Terrapins had a chance to knock off a nationally ranked team, put together a late-season surge and end their one-year bowl drought yesterday afternoon.
Either way, opportunities hovered over an announced crowd of 51,585 that capped the best attended season in Maryland football history. And either way, those opportunities vanished in the most predicable way possible: a poor pass, an interception returned for a touchdown and a 31-16 defeat.
"It's the worst feeling in the world right now," said quarterback Sam Hollenbach, whose fourth-quarter interception was one of four Maryland turnovers. "You can't beat good teams like Boston College with mistakes like that."
In the big picture, yesterday's loss continued several bleak trends. Maryland (5-5, 3-4 ACC) finished its home schedule with a 1-4 mark, failing to win at least two home games for the first time since 1997. The Terps continued to struggle against above-average competition; No. 23 Boston College (8-3, 5-3) was the third consecutive ranked opponent to beat the Terps, who now have a 2-7 mark against such teams over the past two seasons.
"Maybe we played against a team that was better than us," Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I don't have all the answers."
And his team could face a second straight idle December. Next week's trip to N.C. State, which is also 5-5, could become the road to Idaho, with the winner likely advancing to the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise and the loser ending its season below .500. The Terps will probably be without at least one starter because of suspensions stemming from an off-campus fight on Halloween; Friedgen again declined to name the suspended players yesterday.
More specifically, though, yesterday's loss encapsulated everything that has gone wrong with Maryland's season.
Start with the blown opportunities. The Terps were flirting with field goal range on their first drive before Hollenbach was sacked, one of four sacks on the day and one of at least 12 times he was slammed to the ground.
"I've been better," said the battered Hollenbach, who aggravated his left shoulder injury on a second-half collision. "I guess that's just life as a quarterback."
Maryland's second drive ended when Hollenbach fumbled inside the Boston College 10-yard line. Eagles linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, starting in place of the injured Brian Toal, returned the fumble 94 yards for a touchdown, the longest such return in Boston College history.
Then there were the interceptions. One came in the second quarter, with the Terps again inside the Boston College 10. One came on that late-game drive, when Maryland was down eight points and had the crowd on its side. That turnover sent Hollenbach to the sidelines and brought in erratic backup Joel Statham, whose first pass was promptly intercepted.
"I just felt like somebody else needed to try," said Friedgen, who went back to Hollenbach on his team's next series. "It didn't take me long to figure out that wasn't the answer."
And for the fifth time in five losses, the Terps were outplayed in the final quarter. Leading 14-10 entering the fourth, the Eagles went on a nine-play, 59-yard drive to score a touchdown, often running the ball through the middle of Maryland's defense. For the day, Boston College ran 44 times and gained 221 yards.
"We knew what they were going to do," Friedgen said. "They just did it."
The Eagles ended the suspense when linebacker Ray Henderson returned Hollenbach's final interception 35 yards for a touchdown. Before that play, the Terps were still thinking of a Peach Bowl invitation. After that play, they were staring at the possibility of a second straight losing season.
"We had so many opportunities to score," running back Lance Ball said. "We just didn't seize the moment."