COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Don’t call it a “pleasant surprise.”
Don’t call it a “respectable turnaround.”
Don’t dare call it a “nice story.”
After beating the 23rd-ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack 38-31 in their regular-season finale Saturday at Byrd Stadium, the Maryland Terrapins (8-4, 5-3 ACC) put the final touch on a season that can only be described as a “success.”
It might not be the type of success that will make fans in Baltimore and DC rush to purchase season tickets (Saturday’s attendance was only an announced 35,370), as it won’t end with an ACC Championship Game appearance and could possibly result in only a trip to the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium.
But by picking up win no. 8 against an NC State (8-4, 5-3) squad that would have clinched a berth in next week’s title game at Bank of America Stadium, the Terps bridged the gap between “good story” and “successful season.”
Then, athletic director Debbie Yow (who departed College Park for Raleigh in July) announced last December that she would retain head coach Ralph Friedgen. In an interview with Drew Forrester shortly thereafter on AM1570 WNST, she made it clear that her expectation for Friedgen’s 2010 Terps was at least a 7-5 finish.
Despite Yow being replaced in the AD post by Kevin Anderson this fall, it remained fair for those around the Maryland program to have an expectation for the Terps to finish the season 7-5. If Friedgen’s team really was moving in the right direction, their 2010 schedule was not so daunting that it couldn’t result in at least seven victories.
Seven wins would have been a feel-good story.
The eighth victory makes it a real success.
“I’m really happy for our players” said Friedgen. “(They’ll) finally hopefully start getting some respect. Even when we’re doing well, we never beat anybody. Well, we beat somebody tonight.”
The way Maryland came about victory no. 8 makes it even more impressive. After a November 20th loss to Florida State eliminated Maryland from having any chance of reaching Charlotte, it would not have been stunning to see the Terps roll over against the ‘Pack. Quarterback Russell Wilson and NCSU were still very much alive in the ACC title game picture, with legitimate dreams of an Orange Bowl berth.
It appeared as though that possibility would come to fruition early on Saturday, as the Terps fell behind 14-0 after two offensive possessions for each team. But freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien rallied the Terps, connecting with receiver Torrey Smith four times for touchdowns (a school record for the receiver), and the Terrapins wouldn’t allow another NC State touchdown until the fourth quarter, after they had already built a 21-point advantage.
There was particular emotion evident from Maryland players and coaches (including an exuberant leap from defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo following a fourth quarter sack by DL Drew Gloster) throughout the game. It was a stark contrast to what happened two seasons ago, when Maryland was eliminated from the ACC title picture in a blowout loss to the Seminoles, then finished the season with another loss at Boston College.
Friedgen said he was concerned about the possibility of a letdown.
“It was hard. I was concerned about it going into today’s game. I kinda talked to them last night. I said ‘things in life that you really want, you don’t always get. But sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn. And if you keep persevering and you keep working, sometimes all of a sudden good things happen.’ I said, ‘I know how down you are, but there’s nothing we can do about that but go back to work.’”
Friedgen’s words rang true with Maryland players.
“We were upset we weren’t playing for an ACC title because we felt like we were good enough to play in a game like that,” said O’Brien. “But like coach said, we still had a lot to play for. I think we got up to play where a lot of teams might not have.”
“He just told us we still had a lot to play for,” said senior linebacker Alex Wujciak. “Going to a good bowl game, finishing right on Senior Night, beating a ranked team, there’s still a lot of things that this game meant for us.”
Finishing a regular season with eight wins does not solve all of the problems surrounding the Maryland football program (as Saturday’s attendance made clear), but it absolutely offers a statement of hope for 2011 no matter what happens in Maryland’s bowl appearance.
The Terrapins clearly have a quarterback who they can expect big things from in O’Brien. Just 10 of the 44 players on their 2-deep roster (offense and defense) participated in Saturday’s Senior Day even — meaning the team will bring back plenty of talent (Smith could also be tempted to throw his name into the NFL Draft).
But 2010 was not just a season about building expectations for the future. It was a regular season that gave fans both thrills and memories. The final stop against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium, the debut of O’Brien against Florida International, the emotional win at BC after Pete DeSouza’s scooter accident and the offensive shows against Morgan State, Virginia and NC State will not be forgotten by the fans that had the pleasure of watching and following.
The 2010 Terrapins were not a team that made a good run or simply took advantage of a soft schedule. The 2010 Terrapins were a good team.
A good team whose on-field performance is deserving of being remembered as a success.
After a 2-10 season in 2009 and last week’s heartbreak of being eliminated in the ACC title race, the win most certainly capped the emergence of a Maryland team from darkness.
Hear from Friedgen, O’Brien, Smith, Wujciak, Gloster, OC James Franklin and DC Don Brown following Maryland’s win NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net!