Weary of hearing about last season, the Maryland Terrapins managed to turn the page by winning their opening game against a potent Navy team that rushed for 412 yards but often literally dropped the ball when it mattered most.
The Terrapins, who had lost their last seven games of 2009, hope their 17-14 victory over Navy in a rivalry game nicknamed the "Crab Bowl" will begin to justify the team's new marketing slogan.
"I know the catchphrase -- 'Be There for the Comeback' -- and I think that's kind of how everybody feels," said punter Travis Baltz, who subbed for injured kicker Nick Ferrara and kicked the go-ahead, 24-yard field goal with 7:50 remaining.
"This is our chance to show who we really are as a team," said Baltz, who was named a game captain and helped collect a "Crab Bowl" trophy in the jubilant locker room at M&T; Bank Stadium from the Touchdown Club of Annapolis. "It's a silver trophy with a bunch of little [replica] crabs inside. It's kind of cool."
The Terrapins seemed to emit a large sigh of relief after Maryland safety Kenny Tate slammed into Ricky Dobbs before the Navy quarterback could cross the goal line on fourth-and-1. There were only 37 seconds remaining when the play began.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo opted to go for the win rather than attempt a game-tying field goal. "I look back in hindsight now and it was a bad decision, but at the time I had faith in Ricky," the coach said. "He's scored like that many times before."
Maryland said it correctly anticipated that Dobbs would keep the ball and follow his fullback into the line. The Terps said they had noticed watching video that Dobbs didn't seem to like pitching the ball near the goal line. "That was the one play we were looking to defend," Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "If they had pitched the ball and ran to the outside, they may have walked in."
Maryland defensive lineman Joe Vellano (10 tackles, including two sacks) extended his arms skyward after the play.
"Last year we probably wouldn't have won this game," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who said he told his team not to lose focus at the end. Friedgen had called timeout before Navy's final play because he thought his team looked exhausted. Maryland and Navy players both battled the sun and 81-degree heat. Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak (18 tackles, including four solo) had to leave the game with Navy driving in the third quarter, but he returned.
"Teams who lose these games don't win bowl games," Friedgen said he told the Terps on the sideline late in the game.
Maryland won despite surrendering 412 rushing yards and 26 first downs. Five times, Navy moved into the red zone without collecting a point. The Midshipmen fumbled five times, losing two. "To me, if we take care of the football it's a different ballgame," Niumatalolo said. "They knocked the ball out. You've got to give them credit."
Among those celebrating afterward were newly announced Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and incoming university president Wallace Loh. Both wore bright-red Terrapins shirts. "Congratulations. Great win," Anderson told Friedgen's wife, Gloria, in the media room after the game. Anderson comes to Maryland from Army, which has lost eight games in a row to Navy.
Maryland had two runners -- quarterback Jamarr Robinson and tailback Davin Meggett -- top 100 yards. Meggett had a 67-yard run that was the team's longest in two years. Robinson often ran out of the pocket on designed runs. But he only passed for 11 yards and was replaced for one fourth-quarter play by redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien.
Friedgen said it had been his intent all along to play O'Brien. "We're going to use them both," the coach said. O'Brien was in for only one play -- a botched handoff to Meggett at the Navy 16 with the score tied at 14. The fumble spoiled a 57-yard punt return by Tony Logan on the previous play.
On its next series, Maryland moved 41 yards -- Meggett ran for 22 of them -- to set up Baltz's 24-yard field goal that became the game winner.
The teams were playing for the second time since 1965. On their final possession, the Midshipmen were driving into the end zone that faced a sea of white worn by the Navy section. The red-clad Maryland students filled the other end zone seats as well.
Navy's mistakes began with a missed first-quarter field goal from 32 yards, and a fumble by Dobbs. With the Terps ahead 14-7, Maryland linebacker Adrian Moten leaped over the top to hit Dobbs and force the second-quarter fumble.
Navy missed another scoring chance when it couldn't get the field-goal unit onto the field from Maryland's 2-yard line as the first half expired. Then Dobbs fumbled again -- this time in the third quarter -- as he was about to cross the goal line but was hit by Tate. Linebacker Ryan Donohue -- subbing briefly for Wujciak -- recovered.
Maryland was 2-10 last season and hadn't won since Oct. 3 against Clemson. Navy was 10-4 and is expecting another big season.
Maryland scored on its first two possessions without completing a pass. The Terps drove 59 yards in eight plays, scoring on a 5-yard run by Da'Rel Scott. On their next possession, Meggett's 3-yard run made it 14-0.
"For however many months we've heard about 2-10," Baltz said. "We were going kind of crazy on the field. The fourth-down stop was huge and we were going kind of nuts."