Maryland 20, No. 5 Florida State 17

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 9:04 pm
By: News On 6

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) _ Fifth-ranked Florida State was in the process of completing another comeback on the road, and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen could think of only one course of action.

``I was praying hard,'' he said. ``Our kids played with so much heart, it would have been a shame to lose this game.''

The Terrapins held on, and thousands among the sellout crowd of 52,203 charged onto the field Saturday night immediately after the highly improbable 20-17 upset.

Florida State (6-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) came in with a six-game winning streak and a perfect 14-0 record against Maryland (4-4, 2-3), which had scored a total of 17 points in losing three straight conference games.

But the Terrapins got 333 passing yards from maligned quarterback Joel Statham and a solid performance from the defense in defeating a top 10 team for the first time since 1990.

``Nothing lasts forever. You get 14 wins in a row, and it happens when you least expect it,'' Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said.

Florida State trailed 20-10 before Bowden summoned former starting quarterback Chris Rix at the start of the fourth quarter. On his second series, Rix moved FSU to the 35 before a 52-yard field goal try by Xavier Beitia hit the left crossbar.

On his next drive, Rix threw his first touchdown pass of the season, a 16-yarder to Chauncey Stovall with 7:43 remaining that made it 20-17.

After a Maryland punt, Rix got the Seminoles in position for another field goal attempt by Beitia, who was wide left on 45-yard field goal try with 4:45 to go _ his third miss of the game.

``We missed enough field goals to win it,'' Bowden said. ``They made the big plays and we didn't. That was the difference.''

Rix got one final chance two minutes later, but his fourth-down pass from the FSU 27 soared over the head of Lome Sam with 1:38 to go.

At game's end, Terrapins fans rushed the field and embraced the players _ but spared the goal posts, which were guarded by police officers.

``To beat the No. 5 team in the nation should be a benchmark for this program,'' Friedgen said. ``I think we can make tremendous strides from this win.''

Maryland had never come closer than 14 points against the Seminoles, and it seemed unlikely that the pattern would change during a season in which Statham had struggled enough to put his starting job in jeopardy.

But the sophomore repeatedly pierced the nation's eighth-ranked defense with slant patterns and screen passes, finding seven different receivers in going 21-for-40 with one interception. He threw for one score and ran for another in finally solidifying his stature as the starting quarterback.

``It was just a matter of time before I got my stuff down and played smarter than I have been,'' he said.

Said Bowden: ``They all played better than they had been playing. We hoped they wouldn't wake up.''

Florida State starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton went 14-for-30 for 164 yards and two interceptions, and halfback Lorenzo Booker was limited to 51 yards on 13 carries.

Booker played in place of Leon Washington, who has a separated right shoulder. Washington ranks third in the ACC with 689 yards rushing and leads the Seminoles with six touchdowns.

``If we had Leon,'' Bowden said, ``we'd have played a little bit different.''

Earlier this season, Florida State rallied to beat Syracuse and Wake Forest on the road. But the Seminoles couldn't duplicate the feat against Maryland.

``I don't know why we've played like did on the road,'' Bowden said.

Down 13-3 at halftime, the Seminoles sliced into the deficit when Antonio Cromartie returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 12:58 left in the third quarter.

But Statham answered with a third-down screen pass to Josh Allen, who weaved his way for a 72-yard score and a 10-point cushion.

Maryland moved 68 yards on its opening drive before Nick Novak kicked a 43-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Statham went 3-for-3 for 65 yards, including a 39-yarder to Danny Melendez.

Beitia tied it with a 48-yard field goal late in the quarter, six plays after a pass interference call against Maryland's Ray Custis on a third-and-6 play that the Terps questioned.

Novak then ended a 14-play drive with a 45-yard field goal, and Maryland made it 13-3 midway through the second quarter with a drive that featured a 35-yard run by wide receiver Jo Jo Walker. After Statham completed a 33-yard pass to Vernon Davis on third-and-12, the quarterback ran it in from the 1.

It was only the second rushing touchdown against the Seminoles this season, and it ended a run of 12 straight quarters in which they did not yield an offensive TD.