-- Three years in a row, Maryland's path to a national title was halted by a one-goal loss in the College Cup semifinals. The route headed south this year, and for 43 scoreless minutes Friday evening, the possibility of another disappointment hung over SAS Soccer Stadium.
Then Jason Garey and the nation's second-ranked offense unleashed one of the most impressive scoring displays in College Cup history, and the hurdle fell. Maryland's 4-1 victory over Southern Methodist sent the top-seeded Terps into Sunday's final against New Mexico. Maryland last appeared in an NCAA final in 1968, when the Terps earned a share of their only national title.
"The last three years we've been pretty disappointed at this moment, packing up the bus to go home," said Garey, who struck twice within a 16-second span early in the second half. "It feels good to be able to stay here and play on Sunday."
Second-seeded New Mexico, making its College Cup debut, defeated Clemson, 2-1, in the second semifinal. The Lobos (18-1-3) survived a wild final stretch, with Clemson's Randy Albright hitting the crossbar on a header in the last 25 seconds.
Despite prolonged periods of Maryland dominance, the first semifinal was scoreless until reserve forward Graham Zusi notched his fifth goal of the year in the 44th minute. Zusi's volley, which came off a gorgeous cross from David Glaudemans, had the Terps hugging each other and clapping as they jogged off the field at halftime.
Garey, who had been bothered by an injured hip flexor in three scoreless NCAA tournament games, threatened several times in the first half, sending a point-blank header over the crossbar and knocking another chance wide of the net. He was the last Maryland player to emerge from the locker room after halftime.
"I thought he was dangerous in the first half and I said, 'You're due, kid, you're due,' " Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski said. "He looked up and he smiled and said 'I know.' "
The explosion came moments later. Garey's first goal of the night and 21st of the season was set up by freshman Robbie Rogers, whose speed created several opportunities. About 90 seconds into the second half, Rogers blazed down the left side and lofted a cross to the back post. A leaping A.J. Godbolt nodded the ball back toward Garey, who easily converted with his right foot.
Southern Methodist (14-6-3), which was making its second appearance in the College Cup, seemed stunned by the goal, and the Terps (18-4-2) immediately regained possession. Midfielder Maurice Edu sent the ball forward to Garey, who fought off two defenders. His first touch beat diving goaltender Matt Wideman, giving Maryland the fastest scoring burst in College Cup history.
"That's vintage Jason Garey," Cirovski said. "He's a lethal goal scorer. . . . You just can't keep a good man down."
After his second goal, Garey celebrated near the SMU goal with an enthusiastic Maryland contingent in the bleachers. Several hundred students made up a particularly noisy segment of an announced crowd of 8,645.
"I could barely talk to my defense," Wideman, the SMU goalie, said. "You could hear all the Maryland fans, there were a lot of Maryland fans, and I'm not quite sure that we were used to that."
The Mustangs, who started four freshmen, finished with seven shots. Garey, who earlier Friday was named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy -- college soccer's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy -- had eight by himself.
But he was hardly the only Maryland standout. Less than three minutes after Garey's second goal, Edu broke free in the box and was fouled by SMU midfielder Dario Saintus. Stephen King converted the penalty kick to give the Terps a four-goal cushion.
To that point, a Maryland defense that played without all-ACC selection Kenney Bertz (fractured orbital bone) yielded only a handful of real scoring opportunities.
Maryland is now 17-0-2 when scoring first. The Terps have 65 goals, the most in school history. And most importantly, they ended a five-game losing streak in the national semifinal round.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Godbolt said. "We've been talking all year about giving ourselves a chance to win it. And we're 48 hours from getting that chance."
Soccer Notes: Garey was named an all-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Penn State midfielder Ali Krieger (Forest Park High) was named a women's all-American.