COLLEGE PARK - For a moment, it looked as if senior Maryland tailback Chris Downs had created the highlight of his Division I-A career.
With the Terrapins trailing fifth-ranked Florida State 13-0 early in the second quarter at Byrd Stadium, Downs slashed off left tackle on a first-down play, broke into the clear, then showed an impressive burst of speed by outrunning fast-closing cornerback Bryant McFadden along the sideline.
But seconds after Downs had begun to celebrate what would have been a touchdown and a career-high, 61-yard run, he realized the play had been negated by an illegal-block penalty. End of drive, and soon, the end of Maryland.
"At first, I was happy. It felt great. Then I turned around and saw the flag and said, 'No, this is not happening.' I was frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad, all of those things," said Downs, who finished with a team-high 50 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Last night's 37-10 trouncing by the Seminoles basically was wrapped around that nightmarish quarter, during which the Terps committed three turnovers, that very costly penalty - the Terps entered the game having been flagged only six times, tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference - and surrendered 24 unanswered points. And Downs found himself in the middle of it.
Later in the quarter, after the Seminoles had taken a 23-0 lead, Downs caught a pass in the left flat, made a defender miss, then broke free again. But he didn't see Florida State cornerback Rufus Brown flying at him from his left.
Brown stripped Downs of the ball, the Seminoles recovered with 1:47 left in the half and, eight seconds later, Florida State wide receiver Talman Gardner burned Terps cornerback Curome Cox while catching a 56-yard scoring pass from quarterback Chris Rix. That finished Maryland.
At least Downs did come back to score Maryland's only touchdown of the game on a 6-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. Last week, he got the first start of his Division I-A career and rushed for 58 yards.
When asked about the penalty that nullified the long touchdown run by Downs, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said: "It was just a momentum-destroyer. Not only did it take points off the board, it killed the drive."
Friedgen also was skeptical of the call. The flag was dropped after Downs had crossed the goal line.
"[The official] said one of our receivers blocked below the waist. I don't want to comment beyond that. The thing that concerned me was I thought the flag came out very late," Friedgen said.
Coming on strong
The season did not begin on a high note for Terps junior outside linebacker Leon Joe, who was suspended for the season-opening, 22-0 loss to Notre Dame for violating a team rule.
Joe is making up for lost time in a hurry. After leading the team with nine tackles in last week's victory over Akron, he led the way again last night with 11 tackles, including eight solo. Joe had five tackles alone on Florida State's first possession.
"Leon can run with those guys," Friedgen said.
More drops, less time
Friedgen has said on more than one occasion that junior wide receiver Jafar Williams has enough talent to become an all-ACC receiver. The coach also has become increasingly frustrated with Williams' tendency to drop passes. His dissatisfaction reached a boiling point when he booted Williams from practice on Tuesday.
And it carried over into last night when Latrez Harrison, who converted this year from quarterback to receiver, started in place of Williams.
Friedgen downplayed the change. "I think [Harrison and Williams] are both starters in my mind. When you're a receiver for us, we play them all. Jafar had some cramps and stamina problems. It's no big deal."