CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It was only water that the players drenched themselves with in the Maryland locker room.
But, given the magnitude of the celebration, you might have thought it was champagne.
Maryland's recent history of futility at Scott Stadium made the team's 42-23 victory over Virginia on Saturday worthy of a post-game party to eclipse the usual merriment after a win. The Terps had dropped three straight to Virginia and 14 of 18 dating to 1992. Virginia had also won eight of the past nine meetings in Charlottesville.
The win seemed to carry symbolic importance even beyond the border-state rivalry.
It guaranteed a winning season for the Terps (7-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and head coach Ralph Friedgen, whose job security was uncertain after last season's 2-10 disaster. It also kept the Terps well-positioned in their ACC divisional race and sets up a big home game with division heavyweight Florida State next weekend.
Seven victories was the informal target that former athletic director Debbie Yow had set for Friedgen after the coach's job status was reviewed last season. Yow is a now athletic director at N.C. State.
Yow's successor, Kevin Anderson, was on the field after the game and is clearly pleased with Maryland's turnaround. He was not prepared — at least not yet — to make any proclamations about Friedgen's status for next season. "Looking for the eighth (win)," Anderson said of the team in general rather than Friedgen specifically. "Florida State is big, and we want everybody out (at the game)."
All week, players said, Friedgen had seemed to be on edge. Some of his worst moments as Maryland's coach have come against the Cavaliers. Friedgen switched the team hotel from the last meeting in 2008 to try to change their luck.
"Losing three years in a row was not good and I wanted this one real bad," a relieved Friedgen said afterward. "I think the kids knew it. I was on them all week."
Shouts of joy were heard from the visitor's locker room after the Terps overcame the weight of their recent history at Scott Stadium.
"People were spraying water and stuff and going crazy," said defensive lineman Joe Vellano. "We're happy for the seventh win to lock in a better bowl. And coach Friedgen was talking all week about the rivalry."
It was Maryland's second away-game victory in three tries after dropping the previous 10 on the road.
Maryland won because they continued their pattern of producing big plays. Quarterback Danny O'Brien — who was disappointed in his performance in last week's loss at Miami — completed 17 of 28 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The redshirt freshman had completions of 62, 55 and 35 yards as Maryland used short passes to set up longer ones.
Virginia was hurt by 16 penalties for 145 yards. "You can't have that many penalties," coach Mike London said.
Torrey Smith, O'Brien's top playmaker, went over 100 receiving yards in the first half. He finished with seven catches for 157 yards. "We knew they were going to play man-to-man. That being said, our receivers are pretty talented," Smith said. "They did a lot of blitzing, so that left us one-on-one on the outside."
Maryland sealed the game with interceptions by Eric Franklin and Adrian Moten as the Cavaliers tried to rally from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Terps entered the game tops in the conference in turnover margin at plus-11.
Moten's interception set up Maryland's final touchdown on a 12-yard reception by Smith.
"I took it from him," Moten said of Virginia receiver Kris Burd (five catches for 68 yards). "He was just talking a lot of trash (earlier) about what he had done."
The Cavaliers took the lead, 23-21, on an 11-play drive ending with a 37-yard field goal by Robert Randolph with 1:47 left in the third quarter.
Maryland regained the lead, 28-23, on D.J. Adams' third touchdown run of the game, this one from 2 yards out on its opening possession of the fourth quarter. The drive was set up by O'Brien's third-and-14 pass that deflected off linebacker Darnell Carter into the hands of Laquan Williams for 26 yards to the Virginia 34.
If the deflected pass was lucky, Maryland will gladly take it.
"I think (offensive coordinator) James (Franklin) was yelling, 'No, no no,' " when O'Brien first threw the pass, Friedgen said.
Maryland then increased its lead. On third and goal from the 2, O'Brien found running back Da'Rel Scott in the end zone to make it 35-23 with 8:12 left.
Adams, a redshirt freshman, made his biggest impact of the season in the game.
In the first half, he ran for fourth-down conversions twice on the same drive — the second for a 1-yard touchdown to put the Terps up, 21-10 . The drive included a 55-yard reception by Quintin McRee to the Virginia 21.
Maryland entered the day tied for second place in their division with N.C. State, which beat Wake Forest. Florida State began the day in first place by one-half game.
"Here we are with two weeks to go in the season and we have a shot to win our division," Friedgen said. "We were picked to finish last by all the experts. That in itself is an accomplishment. We're not looking to stop there, though. We've got a huge game this week."