Florida State beats Maryland, 30-16
Here is my final game story that I just filed for the Web at 1:30 a.m.
By Eric Prisbell
Having scripted one of the nation’s more compelling redemptive stories, Coach Ralph Friedgen witnessed a week’s worth of buildup for Maryland’s most anticipated night of the season. And an impressive collection of rowdy fans flocked to Byrd Stadium hoping to catch a climatic scene in Maryland’s feel-good tale.
They saw a back-and-forth drama, only without the ending they wanted in a 30-16 loss to Florida State. On the game’s decisive play with 54 seconds remaining --- fourth and seven from the Florida State 19 --- Danny O’Brien, Maryland’s usually unflappable quarterback, felt pressure and couldn’t find a receiver, so he threw over the middle where he expected tight end Will Yeatman or receiver Adrian Cannon to be running crossing patterns. The pass sailed high and landed in the hands of safety Nick Moody, who returned it 96 yards for the game-sealing touchdown, deflating a raucous crowd one step at a time.
For the second time in three seasons, Maryland lost a high-stakes, late-November home game to Florida State. This year’s loss before a spirited crowd of 48,115 was closer than the 34-point defeat in 2008, but the consequence is the same: Maryland (7-4, 4-3 ACC) will not win the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Instead of playing in the Orange Bowl, as players long dreamed about, they will finish the season in a less glamorous bowl game, maybe in Nashville, Tenn., or Charlotte but more likely in Shreveport, La., or Washington, D.C.
The Terrapins will look to spoil North Carolina State’s division title hopes in Saturday’s regular season finale at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2. If Maryland wins, Florida State (8-3, 6-2) wins the division. Whether Maryland is inspired to play after a game that was decided by a just a few plays remains to be seen.
That Maryland kept Saturday’s game competitive was an accomplishment in itself considering the state of an already depleted offensive line. The Terrapins lost center Bennett Fulper (hand) for part of the game, right guard Justin Lewis (knee) for most of the game, and replacement Max Garcia – a true freshman who was expected to redshirt --- late in the game with a lower extremity injury.
“The biggest thing that could not go wrong today went wrong,” Friedgen said at midnight. “And we had 400 (432) total yards with a makeshift offensive line. I’m pretty proud to be their coach.”
After living a charmed life for much of the season, the breaks went against the Terrapins. A late-game O’Brien pass intended for Cannon was ruled an interception by cornerback Greg Reid – and upheld by an official review – even though one replay angle clearly showed the ball hit the ground.
And a wobbly rugby style punt bounced off Cameron Chism’s back, giving the ball back to the Seminoles at the Maryland 17 with 6:11 left in the game. Florida State tacked on a 34-yard field goal to widen its lead to seven with under five minutes to play.
Maryland had one drive to tie or take the lead, and no one on its sideline doubted it would. James Franklin, Maryland’s offensive coordinator, asked players before the start of the drive: “What do you want to do when we score?” emphasizing the when and not the if they score. Players wanted to go for two to win the game. Friedgen, channeling his inner Les Miles, agreed.
“We already had talked about it: If we scored, we were going for two,” Friedgen said.
O’Brien, the cornerstone of the program, led Maryland on a 14-play, 57-yard drive to the Florida State 19. But after throwing two straight incompletions, O’Brien could not find an open receiver on fourth down. In all, O’Brien completed 24 of 45 passes for 269 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked twice.
“Toward the end of the game, they started to put more pressure on us and that really had an impact on our execution,” Franklin said. “The offensive line really fought hard, especially with some of the situations we were in.”
Florida State amassed 354 yards, but 114 came on two plays that Maryland’s defense will rue for some time. Running back Chris Thompson raced 70 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. And quarterback Christian Ponder completed a third-quarter pass over the middle to receiver Bert Reed, who weaved his way 44 yards for the go-ahead score and watched two defenders fall in his wake.
“That is going to happen,” Friedgen said. “They have tremendous athletes in space and I was worried about how we were going to hold up against that. We did a pretty good job for most of the game, but it just takes one play.”
Maryland safety Kenny Tate, who had one interception, said, “Just a couple plays it came down to that will make or break you.”
The first half saw an uncharacteristic fumble, just the third Maryland has lost all season. Attempting to pitch the ball to running back Davin Meggett, O’Brien was hit by end Brandon Jenkins and lost the ball. Linebacker Mister Alexander scooped it up.
“The tale tonight was turnovers,” Friedgen said. “We had not been doing that.”
Then came another ill-timed Maryland mistake, a personal foul called after Antwine Perez and Drew Gloster tackled Ponder on the sideline. That moved the ball to the Maryland 14, but the Terrapins stiffened and forced the Seminoles to settle for a 37-yard field goal.
A momentum-changing play came next. O’Brien threw a short pass that running back Da’Rel Scott had to reach for. Reid delivered a crushing hit, hitting Scott with part of his shoulder. Scott remained on the ground, the deflected ball was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and penalty flags littered the field. The personal foul enraged FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher and extended Maryland’s drive.
Doug Rhoads, the ACC’s coordinator of officials, was in the press box Saturday and said the call was correct because Scott was considered a defenseless player who was hit above his shoulders by any part of the defender’s body.
Despite offensive line issues, O’Brien capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Yeatman, the first of his career, to tie the game at 10.
With a little more than a minute left in the first half, Florida State punter Shawn Powell successfully pulled off a fake punt, completing a shovel pass to cornerback Mike Harris, who sprinted down the left sideline, past A.J. Francis, for a 33-yard gain. Florida State tied the game with a 30-yard field goal before halftime.
It’s been a season defined by an improbable turnaround in College Park and a head coach who saved his job for the second consecutive season. But the Terrapins are not yet ready to finish off a quality team.
“This team is growing,” Friedgen said. “We’re getting better. We’re going to beat one of these teams one day. We are very close. I see it.”
| November 21, 2010; 1:24 AM ET
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