COLLEGE PARK -- The last time Maryland's football team came to Carter-Finley Stadium, the Terps made such an impression that North Carolina State fans almost wouldn't let them leave without a police escort.
"It was unlike anything I've ever experienced," said Maryland junior Adam Podlesh of the Terps' last-minute, 26-24 victory on Nov. 22, 2003. "We all had to duck and weave from the bottles being thrown. It was something else."
Emotions have always played a major role in this rivalry, which in the past five years has been as fierce as any in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terps beat the Wolfpack four straight times from 2000 to 2003, winning each game in the final minutes, none more dramatically than in 2003.
That day, Nick Novak hit a field goal with 23 seconds left as Maryland rallied from a 14-point deficit in the final 6:23. N.C. State fans responded by showering the field with bottles, which some Maryland players picked up and fired back into the stands as they were leaving the field.
"The boos that were coming out of that crowd were almost better than cheers," Podlesh said.
Then last season, N.C. State held Maryland to 91 total yards in a 13-3 win, the first for Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato over the Terps. After the loss, Terps coach Ralph Friedgen described his team's offensive performance as both "inept" and "embarrassing" and said that it marked one of the lowest points in his coaching career.
With plenty at stake today for both teams, the outcome seems bound to produce similar levels of joy for the winner - and devastation for the loser. Maryland (5-5, 3-4 ACC) can become bowl-eligible with a victory, but so can N.C. State (5-5, 2-5), and it's impossible to say which struggling program needs a win more.
The winner is almost certainly headed to a bowl game, and the loser will have missed out on the postseason two years in a row. Rarely does the result of one game offer such a stark contrast.
"If you're 6-5, you're bowl-eligible," said N.C. State cornerback Marcus Hudson. "If you're 5-6, you're at home. You're not in a bowl. You're probably going to the bowling alley."
With similar records, it's not surprising that Maryland and N.C. State have had similar problems this year - with turnovers and penalties.
The Terps are ranked second in the league in total offense (395.8 yards per game), but can't seem to stop giving the ball away at inopportune times. Last week against Boston College, Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach had both a fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown in a 31-16 loss.
Though Hollenbach has played well this year - throwing for 12 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards - he hasn't been the same since injuring his shoulder against Virginia Tech on Oct. 20. He said this week he'll explore whether surgery is required when the season is over.
"The past weekend was as tough a time as I've had in college football, physically and mentally," Hollenbach said. "If not for a couple of bad throws, I feel like we could be 7-3 or at least 6-4, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I just have to focus on N.C. State."
Wolfpack quarterback Marcus Stone is 3-1 since being named the starter at midseason, including a win over Florida State, but he's also been inconsistent, throwing for four touchdowns, but also four interceptions.
He also didn't fare much better than Hollenbach did against the Eagles, throwing an interception two weeks ago that led to a Boston College touchdown that helped the Eagles rally from a 10-0 deficit for a 30-10 win.
N.C. State hasn't been good at home recently, especially against ACC opponents. The Wolfpack has lost six straight league games in Raleigh dating to last year.
Maryland will most likely try to control the game by continuing to give the ball to sophomore running back Lance Ball, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games.
"The line and me have just been cooking," Ball said. "The holes have been opening up right and I'm just executing."
Though much is riding on this game for both schools, Friedgen also has some tough decisions to make that have nothing to do with football.
Several weeks ago, a handful of Maryland players were involved in an off-campus bar fight, and while the university has refused to disclose the names of the players, Friedgen said he planned to suspend some of those involved.
Today may be his last opportunity to do so, and no suspensions have been handed out yet, but the coach has refused several times to discuss who might miss portions, or all of, today's game.
Maryland @N.C. State Today, noon, ESPN, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: N.C. State by 3
Maryland (5-5, 3-4) @N.C. State (5-5, 2-5)
Time -- Noon
TV/Radio -- ESPN/1300 AM, 105.7 FM
Line -- N.C. State by 3
Series -- N.C. State leads, 29-28-4
Last meeting -- N.C. State defeated Maryland, 13-3, last year in College Park
Maryland offense vs. N.C. State defense -- Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach has thrown four interceptions the last two games, in part because he's been trying to force the ball to tight end Vernon Davis (43 catches, 17.7 yards per catch, five TDs). To win, the Terps may need to give the ball to Lance Ball early and often. Ball doesn't have breakaway speed, but he runs hard and has good vision, helping him rush for 837 yards and five touchdowns this year despite limited action early in the season. Wolfpack defensive ends Manny Lawson and Mario Williams will put pressure on Hollenbach. The two have combined for 17 1/2 sacks this year.
Maryland defense vs. N.C. State offense -- Wolfpack quarterback Marcus Stone isn't very accurate (he's just 38 of 84, with 545 passing in four games) but he can make plays, and he's 3-1 since replacing Jay Davis at midseason. He passed for a school-record 96-yard touchdown against Boston College. If Maryland doesn't win, this will be the final game in a Terps uniform for linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who will leave as one of the best to play his position at the school. Jackson leads the league in total tackles, and failed to record at least 10 tackles in just one game this year.
Kevin Van Valkenburg