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Offense stalls, but defenders are in high gear


COLLEGE PARK -- There is this passage in the book "The World According to Garp" in which Garp's father lies senseless in a hospital bed, able to say only his name. He begins losing letters as he draws closer and closer to death. He goes from mumbling "Garp" to ". .arp" to ". .ar. ." Finally, it is written, the man is reduced to a vowel.

Such dwindling occurred as the Maryland Terrapins opened their football season yesterday at Byrd Stadium against the Virginia Cavaliers. The Terps offense produced 10 points in the first 19 minutes, twice driving long distances behind a running game showing surprising potency. But, as the game progressed before 36,198 on a warm, humid afternoon, the offense began to, well, began to lose letters.

The runners began running into closures instead of openings. The H-back and tight end saw tight coverages instead of green grass. And rookie quarterback Jim Sandwisch was just not ready to throw downfield. The result? The Terps stopped moving. A palpable sense of inertia took hold by the fourth quarter. The offense had indeed been reduced to a vowel -- an o, for zero.

What that meant, of course, was it was up to the Terps defense to send everyone home happy and begin the process of making the school look smart for giving coach Joe Krivak a new, four-year contract. The game took on the aspect of a poker game. The Terps had revealed a 10-point hand. If the Cavaliers could top it, they'd win.

These rules -- and the fact that it was up to the defense to deliver the win -- occurred to the Terps defenders. "When our offense went three downs and out to start the second half," linebacker Mike Jarmolowich said, "we said, 'Oh no, we're going to need to be off the field longer than that.' Their defense was playing well. Then their offense started moving on us."

See, the Terps could have built a three-touchdown lead back before they were losing consonants. One early drive stalled inside the Virginia 10. Linebacker Joel Goode dropped a sure interception-for-touchdown. Then the Cavaliers began rallying.

How many times have you seen it? A team blows a few early chances, loses momentum, finds itself in a close game -- and loses. "We were getting nervous," Jarmolowich said.

The Cavaliers narrowed the lead to 10-3 with a field goal just before halftime, then drove inside the Maryland 20 on their first possession of the second half. There, quarterback Matt Blundin ran for a first down, but dropped the ball in the process. It would be a recurring theme. Jarmolowich recovered, saving the lead.

Late in the third quarter, the Cavaliers again drove inside the 20, this time reaching the 5. But a stuffed run and an incomplete pass stalled the drive, leading to a field goal that cut the lead to 10-6. "If they were going to beat us, it was going to be like that, with field goals," defensive end Lubo Zizakovic said. "All I know is we weren't going to give up a TD."

They didn't -- but not without a couple of more scares. Virginia end Tyrone Davis ran a long crossing pattern and got a step behind cornerback Scott Rosen, and Blundin put the ball almost dead on the mark, a touchdown in the making. "At which point you're just praying," Rosen said. The pass was long by a few inches.

Shortly thereafter, halfback Terry Kirby swept the left side for 10, 15, 20 yards, almost breaking loose down the sideline. All that separated him from freedom -- and an 84-yard touchdown run -- (( was the end of the tail of his white uniform, which Maryland safety Bill Inge grabbed and held onto, allowing the rest of the pursuit to catch up.

"There was no doubt they had a couple of good chances," Zizakovic said, "but we had a lot of confidence in ourselves, and we held on. And they just kept fumbling the ball. Blundin, it seemed like, dropped the ball every time we hit him hard. That makes all the difference in a game like this."

The Cavaliers would lose four fumbles in all. The third occurred midway through the fourth quarter, ending another drive after it had reached the Maryland 40. Another drive was stopped on a fourth-and-two at midfield with 3:40 left, the defense stacking up a sweep, and then 90 seconds later came the Cavaliers' last chance, which ended with -- yes -- another Blundin fumble.

That led to a late Maryland touchdown (after a 17-yard drive) and the 17-6 final. Everyone smiled afterward, because it was a big win against a team of similar ability, the kind of game you must win to have a winning season. The Terps offense will need to become steadier and more resourceful, obviously, and not every opponent will be kind enough to lose four fumbles, but the seeds of a winning season are there.

And the biggest seed is the defense. "We have five fifth-year seniors in there," Zizakovic said, "so with the game on the line like that, we can rely on a group that's been together a long time. Which is what you want. I think we're going to have the best defense in my five years here. A real good defense. This was a great start today."

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