N.C. State 20, Maryland 14
-- The last time the Maryland Terrapins came to this state for a football game, they rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to beat North Carolina. The last time the Terrapins came to Raleigh, they rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to stun N.C. State.
Saturday brought another double-digit fourth-quarter deficit, and this time there was no dramatic comeback. This time, Maryland still trailed N.C. State, 20-14, as the final seconds ticked off the clock. This time, what could have been the winning drive ended with Sam Hollenbach's second interception of the afternoon, leading Coach Ralph Friedgen to suggest that Hollenbach's future as the Terps' starting quarterback could be in doubt.
Regardless, Friedgen will be looking for a new defensive coordinator. A team spokesman confirmed that Gary Blackney, Maryland's only defensive coordinator in Friedgen's five seasons, retired after the game. Blackney and Friedgen were not available to comment.
As the game ended, so did Maryland's season, and that ending was equally dismal. The Terps were 5-6 for the second year in a row. They will not play in a bowl for the second year in a row. And those facts prompted disbelief for the second year in a row.
"We were determined not to let this happen again, and here we are," Hollenbach said. "Nothing else really matters. We're 5-6."
N.C. State improved to 6-5 in this showdown for a postseason berth, and the Wolfpack will now wait to learn its bowl destination.
Maryland's loss came without two starters, linebacker William Kershaw and wide receiver Derrick Fenner, who sources said were suspended for their roles in an off-campus bar fight on Halloween night. Fenner did not travel to the game. Kershaw was in uniform and warmed up with the first-team defense but did not play. Freshman defensive end Jeremy Navarre also did not start for the first time this season, and did not play until the second half. A team spokesman said Navarre was unavailable to comment.
Friedgen has never identified the three players who were suspended in connection with the incident, although sources said the third player was wide receiver Drew Weatherly, who sat out a win over North Carolina. Friedgen's investigation also uncovered an underage player who had been drinking, and Friedgen said that player would be suspended for an unspecified length at an unspecified time.
Friedgen said he didn't think the absences affected Saturday's game and declined to explain why the three players were held out.
"I'm not gonna get into that," he said. "When are you gonna learn?"
Aside from those absences, Saturday's loss followed the prototype for a Maryland loss in this disappointing year: missed opportunities, mental mistakes and too many turnovers.
"You've all heard this story before," Friedgen said. "I thought we played hard, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot -- and the result's always going to be the same when you keep doing that."
The missed opportunities were most glaring in the first half, when Maryland held the ball twice as long as N.C. State and more than tripled the Wolfpack's offensive production, yet led by only three points.
Three times the Terps began drives beyond their own 40-yard line. Those drives yielded seven points.
Hollenbach was sacked seven times and hit at least nine other times. N.C. State junior defensive end Mario Williams alone had four sacks. The pressure intensified early in the second quarter when Maryland right tackle Brandon Nixon exited because of a stinger. Over the Terps' last five games, their quarterbacks were sacked 21 times.
Making matters worse, there were a season-high 14 penalties, six more than in any other game. Place kicker Dan Ennis missed both field goals he attempted.
There were also costly fumbles; Jo Jo Walker's muffed punt in the first quarter led to N.C. State's first field goal, and Hollenbach's fumble in the fourth quarter led to N.C. State's second field goal.
Finally, there were those interceptions. Maryland was within three early in the fourth quarter when Hollenbach's pass to Danny Melendez was delivered a moment too late. Wolfpack cornerback Marcus Hudson wrested the ball from Melendez and then went 28 yards for the back-breaking touchdown. In their final four games, the Terps yielded a punt returned for a touchdown, a fumble returned for a touchdown and three interceptions returned for a touchdown.
The Terps finished the season with 15 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. In the three full games since Hollenbach tore ligaments in his left shoulder, he threw six interceptions.
"We can't have a quarterback playing the way he did the last three games," Friedgen said. "Some changes are going to be made somewhere if we keep throwing interceptions all the time."
After winning at least 10 games in Friedgen's first three seasons, Maryland now has just 10 wins in the past two years combined. The team will lose its emotional leader in senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. It could also lose its most valuable receiver in junior tight end Vernon Davis, who said he will decide whether to depart for the NFL within the next two to three weeks.
Friedgen decried "doomsayers" and said he believes his program "is about ready to take off." His players agreed, although that didn't make the ending any easier to stomach.
"It's heartbreaking," Walker said. "This year we fought our hearts out. To go 5-6, it's unbelievable."