Peak ahead Terps confident uphill climb will continue next season


SHREVEPORT, La. -- Maryland's football season, in coach Joe Krivak's estimation, was like scaling a mountain.

"We're still climbing," Krivak said. "We're not there yet."

The Terps' 34-34 tie with Louisiana Tech in the 15th Independence Bowl Saturday night before a record crowd of 48,325 left them with a 6-5-1 record. Though Krivak noted the improvement -- it is the Terps' first winning campaign since 1985 -- he said there is room for more.

"Where do we go from here?" Krivak said. "The key is personnel, recruiting kids who can compete against the teams we play, keeping them in school and graduating them. That's what we have to continue to build on."

Although NCAA rules prohibit Krivak from identifying recruits at this point, it is known that John Kaleo, a hot-shot quarterback from Montgomery College-Rockville, will arrive to replace the departing Scott Zolak. Junior center Mitch Suplee says a formidable lineman also is Maryland-bound.

"He's Madison Bradley from Nassau Community College," Suplee said. "Kaleo told me when Montgomery played Nassau, Bradley was knocking people all over the field.

"With guys like that and with what we have coming back, we're on the right track," Suplee said. "Maryland will be a force to be reckoned with."

Said co-captain and nose guard Rick Fleece, "The university is going in the right direction again. When I look back, I'll feel I had a part in it."

Both of Maryland's leading tailbacks will return. Junior Troy Jackson scored an Independence Bowl-record three touchdowns and freshman Mark Mason rushed for a game-high 93 yards and caught three passes, one for a touchdown.

"We raised some eyebrows and made the people who said we would win only a couple of games eat crow," Jackson said. "We got national recognition. Maryland is on the way back to where it was in the early 1980s."

Zolak, in his only year as a starter, generated totals worthy of a career. He broke Dan Henning's school single-season record with 225 completions, and against Tech was 17-for-28 for 215 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions.

"Look at our tough schedule, the winning record, the good recruits we're getting and Krivak's new four-year contract," Zolak said. "I hope the team and everybody else can learn from that."

New athletic director Andy Geiger, on the job less than three months, considers the season's developments "a solid base" on which to build.

"A lot of young people will be on the field for us next fall," Geiger said. "You can't replace the experience they've had here, these extra weeks of practice and playing before a hostile crowd. The guys grew."

Each bowl team will receive $600,000, but Maryland will be fortunate to break even. The Atlantic Coast Conference gets a cut, the school pays its own travel expenses and the Terps failed to sell all of their allotted 15,000 tickets.

"Playing in the bowl was a good investment," Geiger said. "It was the right thing to do."

Neither team's offense deserved to lose and neither defense deserved to win.

Tech freshman Chris Boniol's 29-yard field goal on the last play of the game produced the tie after Maryland had taken a 34-31 lead with 52 seconds left. On fourth-and-13 from Tech's 13, Zolak connected with Barry Johnson on a crossing pattern for the score.

"It looked like a tennis match," said Maryland offensive coordinator Tony Whittlesey. "If you loved offense, this was the game."

Four seconds remained and Tech was at Maryland's 11-yard line when Bulldogs coach Joe Raymond Peace elected to go for a tying field goal rather than a win.

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